Lesson #385: Malaria

As Liverpool didn’t play until this morning, I invited our Tanzanian friend out to the clubhouse with us for the first match of the new football season. Afterwards, we stopped by our local for a pint and got to talking about the work he’s doing. He’s over doing a year of his PhD work at the School of Public Health, in which he’s working on shortening the length of time a mosquito can transmit malaria — he said right now it’s about six days; he’s working with a team to cut that in half. Which meant he had to explain all the basics of malaria to me because my knowledge of malaria was two points. It’s transmitted by mosquitos, and it’s treated with quinine.

I learned all sorts of cool stuff. First, that malaria’s symptoms are flu-like, which can make it hard to diagnose. Second, that your body will develop a tolerance to it over time. Because he grew up in Tanzania, he’s had malaria many, many times and, as a result, when he contracts it, it feels more like just being a bit fatigued and generally just kind of off for a few days. Whereas, as I’ve never had it, so it would knock me on my ass for a week. Third, that while you can develop a tolerance, being unexposed for an extended period of time — as he will be for the year that he’s here — means that your body forgets how to deal with it, so he admits he’s in for a rough go when he gets home.* Fourth,  the mosquito isn’t the host for malaria, humans are; the mosquito is just the vehicle. The parasite that causes it gets processed by the mosquito’s system in such a way that it moves from the blood the mosquito has consumed from an infected host up into its salivary glands so that when it next feeds, it will infect a new host. It’s a genius system, really.

Anyway, you can read all sorts of fun stuff about malaria — like the the fact that it kills more than 600,000 people every year (!), that there are four different strains, and that it takes quite a long time (usually 10 – 15 days) for symptoms to develop after a bite — from the WHO and CDC here and here, respectively.

*This explains why our Togolese striker missed the North American tour after contracting malaria while he was home during the offseason.

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