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You Don't Want To Monkey Around With Monkey Malaria

on 16 December 2014.

You Don't Want To Monkey Around With Monkey Malaria

The long-tailed macaque carries a virulent strain of malaria that is responsible for an increasing number of human infections in Malaysia.

In Southeast Asia, the battle against malaria is growing even more complicated. And it's all because of monkeys, who carry a form of malaria that until a few years ago wasn't a problem for people.

"According to the textbooks there are only four species of plasmodium parasites that cause malaria in humans," says Balbir Singh, the director of the Malaria Research Center at the University of Malaysia in Sarawak. Now a fifth malaria parasite, called plasmodium knowlesi, has become the leading cause of malaria hospitalizations in Malaysian Borneo.

"At some hospitals in Malaysian Borneo," Singh says, "Up to 95 percent, even 100 percent of the cases are actually this monkey malaria."

The knowlesi parasite used to be found only in monkeys. But as farmers have cleared more land for palm oil plantations and new hydroelectric dams are built, the area's long-tailed macaques are being squeezed out of their original habitats. So the monkeys end up living closer to people. And the mosquitoes that transmit the parasite are now biting and infecting humans.

Read more at http://www.npr.org

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