Next Global Malaria Threat Will Happen in Malaysia

In Southeast Asia, mosquitoes are transmitting malaria parasites from monkeys to people. Credit: CDC/ Dr. Roger Broderson

Malaysia’s battle with mosquito-borne diseases is about to take a turn for the worse.

Even as the country grapples with the Aedes mosquitoes and dengue fever, a new report has suggested that Malaysia could be “ground zero” for a new global malarial menace due to the resurgence of the infectious disease that had been nearly eradicated here.

Malaria has terrorized humans for millennia, its fevers carved into our earliest writing on ancient Sumerian clay tablets from Mesopotamia. In 2016, four species of human malaria parasites, which are spread by mosquito from person to person, infected more than 210 million people worldwide, killing almost 450,000.

Science News

Monkey malaria, discovered in the early 1900s, became a public health concern only in the last 15 years. Before that, scientists thought it was extremely rare for monkey malaria parasites, of which there are at least 30 species, to infect humans.

Yet since 2008, Malaysia has reported more than 15,000 cases of P. knowlesi infection and about 50 deaths. Infections in 2017 alone hit 3,600.

People infected with monkey malaria are found across Southeast Asia near forests with wild monkeys. In 2017, another species of monkey malaria parasite, P. cynomolgi, was found in five Malaysians and 13 Cambodians. And by 2018, at least 19 travelers to the region, mostly Europeans, had brought monkey malaria back to their home countries.

Key points:

  • No feasible way to treat wild monkeys for an infection they show no signs of
  • As countries reduce human malaria, will eventually have to deal with monkey malaria
  • Following a review by experts in 2017, WHO continues to exclude P. knowlesi from its malaria elimination efforts
  • People pick up P. knowlesi parasites from long-tailed macaques, pig-tailed macaques and Mitred leaf monkeys
  • Deforestation and improvements in malaria detection are thought to be cause of recent rise in cases

Read more at Malay Mail

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