What If Our Assumptions About a Disease Are Wrong?
I've always loved reading fact-based fiction because I love learning new things. If I can be entertained while learning new things---all the better! Thus, I'm writing fiction based on current research and events and the age-old question, "What if?" What if one part of that research contained faulty data or analysis? What if one variable or the interaction of several variables had been overlooked? What if that current event had been held in a different setting? What if one person's agenda had been altered by a few seconds? What if our assumptions about our safety are wrong?
Think about our assumptions concerning our health. We assume that many diseases confer immunity against ever contracting them again. But consider Dengue Fever. Even a severe case of Dengue Fever does not confer immunity; rather, the first exposure to Dengue Fever confers a weakened immunity against a second attack of the disease. It is the second, more serious illness that often kills. What if other diseases assumed to confer immunity, like malaria, actually do not confer immunity?
Today's headlines report that a Lancet study discussed by Neil Bowdler, Science and Health reporter for the BBC News, concludes that "Malaria Deaths Are Hugely Underestimated." Immunity, or lack of assumed immunity, factors into this report:
"Worldwide malaria deaths may be almost twice as high as previously
estimated, a study reports.
The research, published in the British medical journal The Lancet, suggests
1.24 million people died from the mosquito-borne disease in 2010. This
compares to a World Health Organisation (WHO) estimate for 2010 of
655,000 deaths....The research was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates
Foundation. It used new data and new computer modelling to build a
historical database for malaria between 1980 and 2010. The conclusion
was that worldwide deaths had risen from 995,000 in 1980 to a peak of
1.82 million in 2004, before falling to 1.24 million in 2010. The rise in
malaria deaths up to 2004 is attributed to a growth in populations at risk of
malaria, while the decline since 2004 is attributed to "a rapid scaling up of
malaria control in Africa", supported by international donors.
While most deaths were among young children and in Africa, the
researchers noted a higher proportion of deaths among older children and
adults than previously estimated. In total, 433,000 more deaths occurred
among children over five and adults in 2010 than in the WHO estimate.
"You learn in medical school that people exposed to malaria as children
develop immunity and rarely die from malaria as adults," said Dr Christopher
Murray of the University of Washington in Seattle, who led the study. "What
we have found in hospital records, death records, surveys and other sources
shows that just is not the case."
"Over the past decade, 230 million cases of malaria have been treated and
the same number of bed nets have been distributed to people at risk of
malaria, and the result of that has been this huge downturn. So what we know
is that we're actually able to turn off malaria with our existing interventions."