Malaria is passed on by the bite of a mosquito infected with plasmodium parasites
The deadly disease passed on by mosquitoes could herald a return to the deathtoll of yesteryear after a drug used to treat malaria failed in a number of alarming cases.
Scientists found artemether-lumefantrine (AL), the drug commonly used to treat the tropical disease, had failed to work on four patients.
The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) led a study into the alarming discovery, and found that the drug failed to work due to strains of the disease showing reduced susceptibility.
The findings showed a “potential first sign of drug resistance”, triggering alarm bells in the medical and scientific community.
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Dr Colin Sutherland, who led the study, said treating patients with AL going forwards "might need reviewing".
The four patients were treated with other medicines, but Mr Sutherland said the incident indicates there may be many more people out there who are harbouring AL-resistant malaria.
He said: "Fortunately there are other effective drugs available.
Symptoms include a fever, sweats, chills headaches, vomiting and diarrhoea
"All the patients were identified by self-referral which suggests more cases of treatment failure in the UK may have occurred.
"Frontline doctors should be alert to the possibility of artemisinin-based drugs failing, and assist with the collection of detailed information about specific travel destinations.
"A concerted effort to monitor AL outcomes in UK malaria patients needs to be made.
"This will determine whether our front-line malaria treatment drug is under threat.”
The fatal disease affects between 300-500 million people annually, with 438,000 people dying from the disease last year.
Malaria is found in more than 100 countries, in mainly tropical regions, including large parts of Africa, Asia, Central and southern American and parts of the Middle East.
The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) led a study into the alarming discovery
More cases of treatment failure in the UK may have occurred
Dr Colin Sutherland
The majority of cases occur in Africa, where the infection is responsible for 90 per cent of Malaria-related deaths.
The latest statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) show nearly half the global population are at risk from contracting malaria.
And while not found in the UK, more than 1,500 travellers are thought to bring the disease back with them when returning from abroad each year, mainly from Africa, which killed three in the UK in 2014.
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Dr Sutherland said: "These cases act as a warning for Africa.
"Drug resistance is one of the biggest threats we face in fighting malaria, and is already starting to occur in parasite strains prevalent in parts of South-East Asia.
"We need to understand why AL failed to clear these four cases of infection.
"Mutations were found in genes previously implicated in drug failure in Africa and these warrant further investigation as candidate genetic markers for AL susceptibility in Africa, a potential first sign of drug resistance."
Malaria is passed on by the bite of a mosquito infected with plasmodium parasites.
Just one bite is enough to pass on the disease, with symptoms appearing anything from seven days to over a year after becoming infected.
The fatal disease affects between 300-500 million people annually
Symptoms include a fever, sweats, chills headaches, vomiting and diarrhoea ad has historically been treatable with antibiotics.
The LSHTM’s study into the first documented instances of AL failing to treat UK patients revealed the cases occurred between October 2015 and February 2016.
The grave situation comes just months after a 70-year-old woman died in a Nevada hospital in September from an infection which was resistant to all 26 available antibiotics.
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