Vaccine for malaria? Differences with yellow fever?


Is there a vaccine to prevent malaria?
What is the difference between yellow fever and malaria?


In answer to your first question, no, there is not currently a vaccine available to prevent malaria. The best current candidate, the RTS,S vaccine which was developed by GlaxoSmithKline, is currently undergoing Phase III clinical trials in Africa. Although preliminary results showed up to a 50% rate of protection against malaria in some age groups, the trials will not conclude until 2014 and so full results will not be known until after that date.

As for your second question, while yellow fever and malaria are both transmitted by mosquitoes, they share few other similarities. Yellow fever is caused by a virus, for example, whereas malaria is caused by a single-celled parasite of the genus Plasmodium. The group of organisms that Plasmodium belongs to is often called “Protista” (the exact grouping and classification constantly changes!), and they more generally belong, based on cell type, to the Eukaryotes, an enormous group of organisms which also includes all mammals and even humans! Viruses, on the other hand, are tiny pieces of genetic material wrapped in a protein coating, and can hardly be described as alive in a conventional sense.

While both yellow fever and malaria are transmitted by mosquitoes, yellow fever is transmitted by the genus Aedes, whereas malaria is exclusively transmitted by the genus Anopheles (at least in humans, and all other mammals for that matter).While spraying inside households may reduce the prevalence of  both types of mosquitoes, Aedes mosquitoes tend to feed during the day, so sleeping under an insecticide-treated bednet is less protective against yellow fever than it is against malaria. Also, a vaccine is available for yellow fever (and has been available for over 50 years), whereas as I describe above, no such vaccine yet exists for malaria.

Finally, while superficially the symptoms of yellow fever and malaria may seem similar (fever, nausea, aches), other manifestations of the disease can be very different. Yellow fever is technically considered a hemorrhagic disease, since it can cause increased tendency to bleed in patients. Also, in some patients, the initial symptoms are followed by an acute liver phase, causing jaundice which can turn the patient yellow (and hence the name). Malaria can also affect the liver, and cause ild jaundice, but usually not to the extent of yellow fever.  Once a patient has been diagnosed with yellow fever, there is no specific treatment, and the patient is merely treated based on symptoms, to ease their discomfort. Vaccination is the mainstay of control of this disease, and has been very successful in many places; the total number of worldwide cases is estimated by the World Health Organization to be around 300,000, with 20,000 deaths, mainly in Africa.

The burden of malaria is also mainly felt in Africa, though the number of cases and deaths is vastly higher – globally, there are approximately 200 million cases of malaria in 2010, with almost 700,000 deaths. Along with the general symptoms of fever and nausea, the most dangerous manifestation of malaria is when it causes cerebral symptoms; this is usually only caused by Plasmodium falciparum malaria, and can lead to impaired consciousness, coma and even death. Also in contrast to yellow fever,  the mainstay of control is a combination of prevention (mostly with vector control, i.e. using bednets, indoor residual spraying and destruction of breeding habitats and larvae) and treatment (using a variety of medications).