A new "super malaria" is spreading in Southeast Asia at an alarming speed, and may ultimately pose a global threat, scientists recently warned.
According to the Mahido Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit (MORU) in Bangkok, this dangerous form of the malaria parasite was first detected in Cambodia in 2007 and has since spread rapidly in parts of Southeast Asia such as northeastern Thailand, southern Laos and eastern Myanmar. Mainly transmitted by mosquitoes, the "super malaria" is hard to treat with standard anti-malaria drugs and is considered to be a major killer of children.
Worse still is "[the] real danger of this malaria becoming untreatable," warned Professor Arjen Dondorp, head of the MORU.
Currently, about 212 million people in the world are infected by the "super malaria" every year, according to the latest study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.
At first, doctors and researchers tried combining artemisinin with piperaquine for treatment. Known for their ability to swiftly reduce the number of Plasmodium parasites in the blood of patients with malaria, artemisinin and its derivatives are usually recommended by the WHO as the frontline medicine for malaria. However, it took only a few years for artemisinin to become less effective. The parasite has evolved so rapidly that it has already become resistant to piperaquine too.
So far, the standard treatment has been failing around a third of the time in Vietnam and could be failing as high as 60 percent of the time in some regions of Cambodia, said the study.
Scientists warn that it would be "catastrophic" if similar resistance emerged in Africa, as 92 percent of malaria cases happen there.
"The spread of this malaria 'superbug' strain, resistant to the most effective drug we have, is alarming and has major implications for public health globally," said Dr. Michael Chew, from the Wellcome Trust medical research charity.
There were two waves of malaria resistance to standard therapyies, which occurred in the 1950s and 1960s. The two waves hit the South East Asia, India as well as Africa, which caused millions of deaths and serious economic loss.