Malaria in pregnancy affects child18th August 2009
According to a study conducted in Kenya, babies who are exposed to malaria in the womb are more susceptible to the disease in childhood.
The new study also suggests that these children have a higher rate of anaemia.
Anaemia is a decrease in the body’s number of red blood cells or in the quantity of hemoglobin found in the blood.
Malaria is a condition caused by protozoan parasites that are widespread in all of the tropical and subtropical regions of the world.
When a baby is exposed to malaria while still in the womb, it appears to develop a tolerance to malaria that causes its immune system to ignore the disease as it grows and develops.
Because the immune system does not recognise malaria as a parasite, it does not know how to fight the disease at all in such cases.
Among nearly 600 women who took part in the study, some had mothers who contracted malaria while they were pregnant.
After recruiting the babies into the study, researchers then spent three years following them up, monitoring the ones whose immune systems responded to malaria during the first test as well as the ones whose did not.
At the end of three years, the researchers found that babies whose immune systems had stopped fighting malaria were 60% more likely to contract it.
When a baby is born, its mother usually provides it with the antibodies it needs in order to fight off disease.
However, children lose this extra immune support over time, and by age three can become very susceptible to malaria.
Alex Wamachi, of the Kenya Medical Research Institute in Nairobi, said that under normal circumstances, the body is very hostile to anything foreign, and that increased susceptibility to malaria in a child is disastrous.
If it is not detected by the body’s natural defences, malaria can find its way into red blood cells.
If the parasite is left to mature inside of red blood cells, it can eventually destroy the body’s oxygen-carrying capacity and the child will end up anaemic.
Wamachi said that the factors which determine the tolerance of newborn babies to malaria are unclear.
However, the findings may help researchers to specially design malaria vaccines for children.
Wamachi said that, for now, he and his team are happy to have found out something which wasn’t known before.
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Title: Malaria in pregnancy affects child
Author: Luisetta Mudie
Article Id: 12437
Date Added: 18th Aug 2009