Northern Sabah sees surge in 'monkey malaria' cases

KOTA KINABALU: A new strain of malaria has been found to be spreading across northern Sabah.

Incidences of infections by the strain - Plasmodium knowlesi - have increased alarmingly over the past decade and it is now the main cause of human malaria in the state.

A research programme called the Monkeybar project has started work to determine the spread of the new type of malaria by collecting blood samples from 10,000 people in 170 villages in the districts of Ranau, Pitas, Kota Marudu, Kudat and Pulau Banggi.

For now, it is known that P. knowlesi can cause a severe form of malaria and there have been multiple deaths due to it here.

A state Information Department statement said this type of malaria is carried by macaques and can spread to humans by infected mosquitoes.

The Monkeybar project is a five-year programme with the Health Ministry, the Kota Kinabalu Infec­tious Diseases Society, Universiti Malaysia Sabah, University of Malaya and the Sabah Health Department.

Other partners are the Wildlife Department, the Danau Girang Field Centre, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Glasgow University, the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and the Menzies School of Health Research in Australia.

Investigators are also working closely with the Kudat, Kota Marudu, Pitas and Ranau district hospitals and health clinics.

Dr Timothy William, the Malay­sian principal investigator for the study, said this was the largest survey of its type and would give researchers new information on people who are affected by malaria.

"We hope to get a better understanding of the types of environments where malaria is likely to occur," he said.

Kimberly Fornace, a researcher from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: "This will help us predict areas that have a higher risk and target public health interventions."

The survey started in September and blood samples have been collected from over 7,000 people to date.