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Increasing malaria problem in Asia

September 2017

asian malaria

Last February LaterLife reported about problems treating malaria as the parasites causing the illness were adapting and becoming resistant to the main form of treatment available.

Now further alarming reports have come from the Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit in Bangkok. They have issued a report that a new strain of malaria has now evolved that is spreading fast and is pretty well untreatable.

When we were young malaria was an exotic disease that only affected those lucky enough to travel to exotic places. But how things have changed. Many people our age will be planning winter holidays as air travel and trips become more and more affordable, and Asia is today a hugely popular place to visit. This is especially so in winter when we often become desperate to enjoy some warmer weather.

This dangerous form of “super malaria” as it is now being described was first identified in Cambodia where it is thought to have first taken hold. But according to the Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit, this new form of malaria has now spread through parts of Thailand and Laos and also across southern Vietnam.

Thailand and Vietnam especially are high on the list of popular places to visit for UK residents, and so news about this new strain needs to be noted.

The unit have said they consider the new malaria as a serious threat and are alarmed that the strain is spreading so quickly across the region. While as we reported in February strains of malaria were evolving which were resistant to the main treatment of artemisinin and artemisinin combination therapies, now it seems this dangerous new strain has also developed a resistance to another mainline antimalarial drug piperaquine.

mosquito

The researchers have called this a sinister development and believe there is now a real danger of malaria becoming untreatable. They say if this resistant form of malaria spreads to other parts of the world such as Africa, then the results would be catastrophic.

There is now a rush to eliminate the new strain and also of course to develop new treatments for malaria, but right now there is no easy answer and the traditional treatments for malaria are beginning to fail. In Cambodia, the worst affected region at the moment, 60% of treatments are not working as they should.

A global organisation WWARN, which helps international efforts to fight antimalarial drug resistance, reports that the new strain of malaria has developed resistance to not only artemisinin but also to its partner drug piperaquine and “it has outcompeted other strains of drug-resistant malaria to show dominance in the regions affected”.

This implies that if we do catch malaria in south east Asia, it is becoming more likely that we will suffer from the new drug-resistant strain.

Professor Sir Nicholas White, co-author of the report, says the new superbug has caused an alarming rise in treatment failures and there is now a need to tackle this public health emergency urgently.

If you are planning a trip to South East Asia, it is worth checking the latest advice on malarial protection with your health advisor before you leave.

More information on the latest research is available here.


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