A strain of malaria thought previously to be ‘benign’ has been found to be potentially fatal in a recent study published by Charles Darwin University’s Menzies School of Health Research.
The study, published in the International journal PLoS Medicine this week, has shattered previous conceptions that this ‘benign’ strain is a mild and non life threatening strain of malaria.
There are two major strains of malaria effecting humans, P. vivax and P. falciparum. Traditionally, attention has focused on P. falciparum, the dominant strain in Africa, which is considered to be the more virulent and deadly strain of malaria.
In Asia almost half of malaria is due to P. vivax. There are up to 400 million cases of vivax malaria each year, with about 300 cases reported each year in patients returning to Australia from malaria endemic countries. In Indonesia and PNG, the parasite has developed resistant to standard treatments making it difficult to treat.
New research conducted in Papua, Indonesia has shown that P. vivax is far from benign, but is responsible for a significant amount of illness with high rates of severe disease and death. The paper also shows that in many cases, victims are infected with a mixture of both parasites and that this results in an even higher risk of severe disease than infection with a single parasite.
The papers author, Dr Ric Price, from CDU’s Menzies School of Health Research, said that these findings provide important information about the burden of malaria associated with P.vivax infection and that this should focus attention on treating and preventing this important disease.
“Our findings show that in a region where multidrug-resistant strains of malaria are common, P.vivax infection is associated with severe and fatal malaria, particularly in young children,” he said.
“We have also shown that people infected with both types of malaria parasite are more likely to suffer from a severe case of malaria and, importantly, that similar proportions of patents infected with P. viva and P. falciparum die from the disease.
“The implications of these findings will be far reaching as they highlight the need to consider both strains of malaria when implementing measures designed to reduce the burden in regions where these parasites co-exist.”
Dr Price went on to say that more research would be needed in other settings to confirm these findings and to learn more about the pattern of severe malaria associated with P. vivax, in particular, with multi drug-resistant strains.