Is Zoonotic Malaria Reversing Malaysia’s Progress In Eliminating Malaria?

To commemorate World Malaria Day, which was observed on 25 April, SJMC Consultant in Internal Medicine and Infectious Diseases, Dr Timothy William and University Malaysia Sarawak Malaria Research Centre Founding Director, Professor Dr Balbir Singh, discusses how zoonotic malaria has become an emerging threat in Malaysia and how to think outside the box to eliminate this form of transmission.

Malaria used to be a big problem in Malaysia with over 20,000 cases a year however the Ministry of Health has done a good job in controlling and eliminating human transmitted malaria with not a single indigenous case in 2018. If any, most cases of human malaria are imported cases from people travelling to endemic areas. 

However, zoonotic malaria poses a problem today where the disease is transmitted from mosquitoes to humans. Malaria is a disease caused by a parasite that is spread to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito. This parasite is easily found in monkeys and monkeys are a protected species hence we cannot go around eliminating them, making it a challenge to control infection of the malaria parasite living in monkeys. 

"As our environment changes and habit contact gets closer, bringing humans closer to wild animals, the risk of zoonotic diseases become higher," shared Dr Timothy. 

Malaria and dengue share a lot of similarities in the way the person presents with the disease. Main symptoms like fever, chills and body ache are similar in both diseases hence it is difficult to differentiate based on signs. Malaria is diagnosed by finding the parasite in a patient's blood. The parasite multiplies in the red blood cell causing it to be enlarged. A blood sample is taken and spread as a blood smear on a microscope slide. 

Malaysia has the capacity to diagnosed malaria with trained microscopists compared to other countries despite having the highest number of plasmodium knowlesi cases in the world. 

"Malaria is treated via antimalarial drugs, which should be readily available in all hospitals. Our public hospitals have them and private hospitals should have access to it when needed," Dr Timothy stressed. 

The take home message for people living in the urban area is if you plan a trip to the jungle and should you see a doctor for fever when you return, tell the doctor where you have so the doctor would take a blood sample to test for malaria. 

Source: BFM