Preventive Treatment Reduces Risk of Malaria in Infants

A new study shows that giving 3-, 4-, and 9-month-old infants a single dose of a common anti-malarial drug significantly lowers their risk of contracting malaria. The research appears in the August 1, 2006  issue of the Journal of Infectious Diseases, now available online.

Malaria is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, causing an estimated 3,000 deaths each day and at least 300 million cases of severe illness each year, particularly among infants in sub-Saharan Africa. Prior attempts at prevention that relied on frequent administration of antimalarial drugs were unaffordable in the long run and might promote drug resistance. But intermittent preventive treatment, a more focused use of antimalarials at a few specific intervals, has proved promising in earlier studies.

Clara Menendez, MD, and her colleagues in Mozambique and Spain explored the intermittent administration of the antimalarial sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine (SP) to infants in their first year. Infants given SP at 3, 4, and 9 months of age were compared with those given a placebo at the same intervals.

Menendez and colleagues found that giving infants SP was safe and well tolerated, and reduced the incidence of hospital admissions by one fifth.

According to editorialists Feiko O. ter Kuile, MD, PhD, of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Richard W. Steketee, MD, MPH, of the Malaria Control and Evaluation Partnership in Africa, "SP has a combination of features that may make it highly suitable for use as intermittent preventive treatment; it has relatively long half-lives, is very well tolerated in young infants, and it can be given as a single dose."

Intermittent preventive treatment with sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine is seen by Drs. ter Kuile and Steketee to provide a satisfactory balance of safety and efficacy. There is "substantial protective efficacy of this approach," they said.

Source: Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA)

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