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A Mutated Strain of ‘Super Malaria’ Is Spreading at an Alarming Rate

In a disturbing development, a newly-mutated strain of drug-resistant malaria has spread into Vietnam, complicating efforts to contain the the mosquito-borne virus in Southeast Asia, and potentially posing a global threat.

Like bacteria, malaria is adapting to our medicines. Drug resistance is a growing problem for malaria treatment, with fears that the disease could one day no longer be treatable with the current crop of pharmaceuticals.

A particularly problematic strain of malaria, known as PfPailin, is now spreading in Southeast Asia. This so-called “superbug” cannot be treated with first-line anti-malarial drugs. The strain emerged a few years ago in Cambodia, and has since spread to Thailand and Laos. Now, as a team of experts point out in a letter to The Lancet, the drug-resistant strain has spread from Cambodia into the Mekong sub-region of Vietnam, where infected patients are experiencing “alarming rates of failure.” In southeast Asia, drug treatment failure rates (failure meaning that drugs are ineffective at curbing the effects of malaria, such as fever, mild jaundice, organ problems, anemia, seizures, coma, and in the most severe cases death) are now approaching 60 percent. The World Health Organization claims that 1.5 million people are infected with malaria in southeast Asia annually, resulting in over 600 deaths.

Judy Breck

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