Health Alert (9): A New Malaria Kid on the Block

Looking at all the disease epidemics in the last decade, there is a striking similarity between them. SARS, Avian flu, Nipah virus, swine flu… they all originated from an animal source. And, probably because these animals had begun to develop immunity to them, these germs began looking for  another host – man.

And if one is empathetic, can you blame these viruses for invading man? After all, they are living things and they do need to fight for survival! Even viruses have their rights,  too. 🙂 Anyway, I digress. Looking at the spate of infectious diseases spread from animals to man in recent years (scientists call them zoonoses) , is this a trend that will herald a queue of other zoonoses which are going to affect mankind?

malaria

Malaria parasites (in purple) within a red blood cell about to burst and infect nearby cells

There are indications that this might be the case. Take for example, malaria, a disease that kills one million worldwide. Its an established fact that the causative bug, a parasite called Plasmodium is transmitted from an infected person via the Anopheles mosquito to a potential victim. Its never been known that malaria could be transferred from anyone else other than man…until recently, that is.

macaque

The Macaque - those with malaria can now pass them to man

Now, with potentially serious ramifications,it has been proven that a human can get infected with malaria coming from monkeys. This finding, by a group of researchers in Sarawak, Malaysia showed that the parasite that causes malaria only in monkeys (called Plasmodium knowlesi) has been found to have infected humans in Sarawak as well as Sabah, on the island of Borneo.(read more here).

What does this mean? Malaria would have to be classified as a zoonosis, thereby changing public health strategies. With increasing tourism now, it would be a matter of time before this type of malaria will spread far beyond Borneo, even to Western countries. This particular strain of malaria is also as deadly as the wellknown falciparum strain found commonly in Africa.

My doctor friends in Borneo have told me they have been aware of this for several years – fortunately in most cases, cure has been achieved using conventional medications. According to them, the problem often is in making the diagnosis, as some of the symptoms do mimic other diseases like dengue fever.

(This article is dedicated to Z Y)

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3 responses

  1. Many thanks, Doc. Very informative.

  2. This could be part of globalisation?

    Anyway, SELAMAT HARI RAYA AILDIL FITRI, doc.
    Take care and God bless!

    Doctor2008 says: If its globalisation, the mosquitoes and monkeys are doing a far better job! 😉 Thanks for the good wishes!

  3. Hello,
    I just stumbled upon this blog and thought I’d jump in. Yeah, this has been known for years and in all likelihood has been overlooked unless PCR was used in diagnosis. There are other monkey Plasmodiums that will infect humans. P. cynomolgi, for example, will infect humans and has been demonstrated in experiments. It hasn’t been demonstrated, at least to my knowledge, in natural settings though. But again, unless a very experienced eye was reading the blood smears then it would likely get diagnosed as P. vivax, it’s human analog.

    Chad
    Doctor2008 replies: Thanks for the feedback, Chad. Its amazing how come malaria is still not widely accepted as a zoonosis yet, despite all this evidence.

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