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Monkey malaria jumping to humans and on the rise

on 04 December 2014.

Monkey malaria jumping to humans and on the rise

WHILE Ebola stalks West Africa, another animal-borne disease is invading humans: monkey malaria. It is now causing most of the severe malaria in Malaysian Borneo, and may be adapting to people, warns Balbir Singh of the University of Malaysia in Sarawak.

Different species of malaria parasites afflict people and monkeys, carried by mosquito species that prefer either us or them. Monkey malaria was considered rare in humans until 2004, when better diagnostics started finding it across Southeast Asia. Cases have risen steeply in Malaysia since 2008, and last year 68 per cent of people hospitalised with malaria in Malaysian Borneo had monkey malaria, says Singh.

The illness yields to malaria drugs, but is three times as likely to be severe as the worst species of human malaria. Moreover, unlike human malaria, it is carried by mosquitoes that bite in the daytime, so insecticide-treated bed nets are useless.

Singh thinks that people are mostly infected by mosquitoes that have first bitten monkeys – humans do not spread the parasite themselves. But he fears that as deforestation deprives monkey malaria of its normal hosts, it is evolving to spread between people.

It has been found alongside human malaria parasites in mosquitoes that prefer humans. And Singh and his team told this week's meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in New Orleans that genetic changes between monkey malaria in humans and monkeys suggest adaptation.

Deforestation is also blamed for Ebola jumping from bats to humans. But there were few personal reports about that in New Orleans: Louisiana state officials decreed that anyone coming from the epidemic zone, symptomatic or not, must be quarantined for three weeks, making it impossible for many researchers to attend.

Source: NewScientist

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