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Malaria is the most important and the most widespread of the transmissible diseases. It threatens almost one third of Humanity, affects around 600 million people and is responsible, each year, for more than 2 million deaths. Caused by microscopic parasites, Plasmodia, this disease is transmitted by the bite of certain mosquitoes, the Anopheles. Its symptoms include bouts of a special type of fever, as well as an increase in the volume of the spleen and various other disorders. But malaria may involve complications such as cerebral attacks causing a fatal coma, especially among young children living in malaria-endemic areas or among expatriates and tourists.
Globally, malaria thrives in various inter-tropical regions, with the obvious exception of the desert areas or high mountains. Beyond geographical or climatic factors, the frequency of the disease is essentially controlled by the mosquito vector. Certain species are, in fact, more active than others. This explains the frequency and the intensity of the infection in inter-tropical Africa and in certain regions of the Amazon Basin. On the other hand, the intensity of transmission is lower in other inter-tropical regions and especially in South East Asia. In France, each year more than 5,000 cases of malaria are observed among travelers who have stayed in malaria-endemic areas without having taken any special precaution. Many hundreds of patients show signs of severe forms, likely to generate a range of side effects. More than 20 deaths are reported each year as a result of imported malaria.
The existence of strange fevers, especially frequent in marshy areas, has been known since time immemorial. It is thanks to this association of ideas that the French word for malaria - paludisme has it origins (palud, Old French for marsh) or even the Italian (malaria or bad air). After the discovery of America, the conquistadores brought back from Peru Cinchona bark which provided the first specific treatment for this infection, the causal agent of which was only discovered in 1880, in Constantine, by a French military surgeon, Alphonse Laveran. In the years that followed, several Italian and British research workers subsequently showed that the Plasmodia are transmitted by the bite of certain mosquitoes (anopheles) whose larvae effectively develop in stagnant water. The XXth century has, by the way, been marked by the appearance of resistance to the various antimalarial drugs. During the Second World War, the American Army, was able to protect its troops deployed in the Pacific thanks to the discovery of the first synthetic antimalarial drugs. Unfortunately, the majority of these drugs have, in their turn, become inoperative. One recent hope is linked to new antimalarial drugs derived from plants which come from China. Finally, the antimalarial vaccination has been involved in several tests, the results of which still remain at the preliminary stage. No-one today can forecast, when future vaccines will be available and how efficacious they are likely to be.

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