New mutant malaria strain in SE Asia 'a serious threat'

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New mutant malaria strain in SE Asia 'a serious threat'

For the past decade scientists and health workers have become increasingly alarmed by the spread of a malaria strain resistant to artemisinin, a key drug used to treat patients.

AN especially drug-resistant type of malaria is becoming dominant in parts of the Mekong region, researchers said yesterday, warning of potentially dire consequences if it makes the leap to India and Africa.

The study was led by researchers at the Mahidol-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit (MORU), the Mahidol University in Bangkok, Thailand, and Oxford University, UK. "We are losing a unsafe race", said Nicholas White, a professor at Ox ford University and Mahidol University in Thailand, who co-led the research.

Now researchers have also discovered a version of that strain that is not only resistant to two types of drugs, but has muscled out its less unsafe peers to become the dominant variant, according to a paper published yesterday in The Lancet Infectious Diseases medical journal. "We need to work with our policy, research and funding partners to respond to this threat in Asia urgently to avoid history repeating itself".

The strain was first detected in western Cambodia in 2007 and has since spread to parts of northeastern Thailand, southern Laos and eastern Myanmar.

The team found one strain of resistant parasite - PfKelch13 C580Y - which appears fitter, more transmissible and is spreading more widely than other mutant malaria strains.

Data to help track resistance to drugs, like this study, is vital for improving treatment, diagnosis and prevention of drug-resistant infections.

While deaths from the disease have fallen dramatically in the past 15 years - since 2000 malaria deaths in Africa have dropped by 62 per cent - to 429,000 in 2015, there are big gaps in progress, with the poorest countries faring the worst.

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