Contrary to popular notion, malaria is not a relatively new disease associated with advances in human settlements and development of agriculture. A new study shows that malaria dates back to the dinosaur era, more than 100 million years ago. While this is of little consolation to those afflicted by the disease or those engaged in trying to prevent its spread, the new research has shown that Plasmodium, the parasite that causes malaria, is extremely resilient.
Fossil evidence presented by researchers show that a form of malaria related to the current strain that infects humans, birds and other animals, existed in mosquitoes more than 20 million years ago. Furthermore, research has revealed the presence of an ancestral strain of the malaria parasite in a biting midge that dates back over 100-million years ago.
Malaria is a potentially fatal disease caused by the Plasmodium falciparum parasite, which is spread through bites of infected Anopheles mosquitoes. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there were approximately 214 million cases of malaria across the globe last year and around 438,000 deaths from the disease.
Researchers involved in the study say that gaining a better understanding of how the disease has evolved over millions of years may provide insight into ways to halt transmission through today's vector - the Anopheles mosquito.