Health officials in the Sarawak state of  Borneo, Malaysia are on high alert as the “monkey malaria”, Plasmodium knowlesi has been detected in three villages near the capital city of Kuching, according to local media reports.

Mature simian malarial schizont and gametocyte/CDC
Mature simian malarial schizont and gametocyte/CDC

“Knowlesii Malaria is transmitted from infected monkeys to anopheles mosquitoes which then pass the parasites to humans, and the parasites destroy human’s red cells,” Public Health Assistant Minister Datuk Dr Jerip Susil told Malay Mail Online.

“The Health Department found the parasites to be more fatal than other types of malarial parasites because they are more destructive to humans’ red blood cells,” he said.

Health officials are taking all necessary precautions in the battle against the mosquito borne parasite.

Plasmodium knowlesi, “the fifth human malaria”, is mostly found is mostly found in South East Asian countries particularly in Borneo, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand.

Plasmodium knowlesi is absent in Africa. This may be because there are no long-tailed and pig-tailed macaques (the reservoir hosts of P. knowlesi) in Africa and many West Africans lack the Duffy antigen – a protein on the surface of the red blood cell that the parasite to uses to invade.

Mosquitoes belonging to the Anopheles leucosphyrus group are known to transmit P. knowlesi from monkeysto humans.

After warning us in 2011 about a huge reservoir of Plasmodium knowlesi  in the monkeys and how the increasing human populations and deforestation could shift the disease to humans, Director of the Malaria Research Centre at University of Malaysia, Sarawak, Dr. Balbir Singh reported in 2014, or 3 years later that sixty-eight percent of malaria hospitalizations in Malaysia in 2013 were caused by the malaria species found in macaques.

In addition to malaria, Malaysia’s dengue outbreak continues to grow at a steady pace. With the reports of an additional 315 cases reported Thursday, the total dengue cases in the country is now at 30,907. The death toll due to dengue fever now stands at 95, according to national news media. Selangor recorded the highest number of deaths at 50.