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Year-Long Preventive Care Lowers Children’s Risk of Malaria

Update Date: Aug 05, 2014 02:08 PM EDT

Even though malaria is considered eradicated in many regions of the world, the disease is still at large in rural areas of developing nations. In a new study, researchers examined the effects of prolonged treatment in preventing malaria. The team found that year-long preventive care can significantly reduce children's risk of malaria.

"This study has identified an effective measure for reducing the incidence of malaria in children living in an area with high rates of the disease," said Lynne Mofenson, M.D., chief of the Maternal and Pediatric Infectious Disease Branch at the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).

For this study, which was funded by the NIH, the researchers tested the effects of three preventive drug treatment options, which were a monthly dose of dihydroartemisinin-piperaquine (DP), a monthly dose of sulfadoxine-pyrethamine (SP) or daily dose of trimethoprim-sulfamethoxozole (TS). The team recruited 393 infants from Tororo, Uganda. Starting at the age of six-months, the children were randomly assigned to one of the three treatment options or to a placebo. The placebo group used standard preventive care, which was a mosquito net. There were still 352 children remaining in the study by the time they reached 24 months old. At this age point, the researchers stopped the drug treatments.

The team discovered that DP was the most effective preventive drug treatment. Children from this group were 58 percent less likely than children from the placebo group to get malaria. The second most effective treatment was TS followed by SP. Between the drug groups, the researchers did not find any differences in the anemia rates or rates of other side effects tied to the drugs.

"Our study showed that preventive drug treatment can greatly reduce malaria in young children in areas where there are year round high rates of transmission," Dr. Grant Dorsey, M.D., of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) at San Francisco General Hospital, said. "We believe that this treatment regimen will be of substantial benefit in many parts of the world in need of improved malaria control measures."

Dr. Mofenson added, according to the press release, "It's better to try to prevent a potentially fatal illness than it is to wait until the child gets the illness and is at increased risk for dying."

The study was published in PLOS Medicine.

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