Human malaria parasites continue to wreak havoc on people in our region, and now a major new threat is emerging, the monkey parasite called Plasmodium knowlesi. Previously confined to monkeys, it has now successfully jumped to the human population, transmitted by mosquitoes from monkeys to humans.
Knowlesi is a killer and its toll on kidney health in particular can be fatal. So, accurate diagnosis of knowlesi is vital. Knowlesi has been found in every country in SE Asia except Laos and Timor Leste, yet Malaysia is the only country carefully testing for it. There, cases are turning up in the thousands.
Disturbingly, they’re now seeing knowlesi causing over 75% of ALL malaria cases, demonstrating the severity of the situation and the difficulty in successful prevention and treatment.
Human encroachment into monkey habitats with increases in forest clearing have heightened the risk of monkey to human transmission. Transmission from humans to humans without monkeys has also been shown. If this becomes established it will be a problem for all of us in the Asia Pacific region, as knowlesi will be even more severe if it spreads this way. And if the monkey is gone from the equation, it puts Australia at risk.
Clearly, it’s in our best interests, as well as those of our region, to act on knowlesi as a matter of urgency, and with every weapon at our disposal.