Monkey malaria alert in Sabah

PHOTO: The Star/Asia News Network

KOTA KINABALU - Health authorities in Sabah are intensifying their hunt for the Anopheles mosquitoes that are known for transmitting an emerging disease called Plasmodium knowlesi malaria from monkeys to humans.

Infectious Disease Society of Kota Kinabalu president Dr Timothy William said steps are being taken to reduce breeding sites of the mosquitoes apart from spraying insecticides where these insects are prevalent.

He said health officials were doing all things possible to optimise the treatment of Plasmodium knowlesi malaria or more commonly known as monkey malaria in humans through early detection.

"Those known to be suffering from this disease are given immediate treatment with Artemisinin combination therapy and early referral to tertiary care hospitals for severe cases.

"There is continuing research on this emerging disease," said Dr William, the principal investigator of an international study on monkey malaria and co-author of the report that was recently published in The Lancet Planetary Health.

He was also the infectious disease consultant at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital here when the study was carried out in various parts of Sabah three years ago.

Chris Drakeley, Professor of Infection & Immunity from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and principal collaborator on the study, said P. knowlesi is a complex and potentially life-threatening parasite.

"Conventional approaches used to tackle malaria such as drugs or bed nets cannot be used to combat P. knowlesi as monkeys are the host and the risk is associated with outdoor work.

"Our study offers important insight into where social interventions are likely to have the biggest impact," he said.

"We will continue to work with our colleagues in the Malaysian Health Ministry to improve awareness and education for local residents about areas of risk and how they can prevent mosquito bites," he added.

Dr Matthew Grigg, Menzies Research fellow and lead author of the study, said: "Malaysia's national malaria eradication plan is proving extremely effective in reducing case numbers of other types of malaria.

"However, we found that cases of P. knowlesi are on the rise due to a number of human behavioural factors such as farming, land clearing activities, working on oil palm plantations, and travelling or sleeping outside."