The World Health Organization statistics suggest that there were some 584,000 deaths from malaria in 2013, out of estimated 198 million infections, and 90% of the deaths took place in Africa. Drug-immune Plasmodium falciparum is the deadliest malaria parasite, and has evolved to resist the effects of artemisinin, the frontline malaria drug. This artemisinin-resistant malaria parasite has not yet been documented in Africa, but has been spreading rapidly through southeast Asia.
A new study has revealed that this drug-resistant malaria parasite from southeast Asia can infect African mosquitoes, the Anopheles coluzzii mosquito which is the main transmitter of the disease in Africa. This has boosted fears that the hard-to-cure variant of the disease could reach the world's most vulnerable continent.
A statement from the United States' National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which took part in the study, said, "The discovery suggests Africa -- where malaria will cause an estimated 400,000 deaths in 2015, is more at risk for drug-resistant malaria infections than previously thought. This, in turn, could further compromise efforts to prevent and eliminate the disease."
Scientists wanted to study whether the Plasmodium falciparum parasite could infect Africa's Anopheles coluzzii mosquito. They tried to infect a variety of mosquito species, including the African type, with resistant parasites from Cambodia, and it worked.
The NIAID said, "The scientists also discovered a shared genetic background among artemisinin-resistant parasites that may enable them to infect diverse mosquito species by evading their immune systems. The ability of artemisinin-resistant parasites to infect such highly diverse Anopheles species may explain the rapid expansion of these parasites in Cambodia and neighboring countries, and further compromise efforts to prevent their global spread."
The study was published in Nature Communications.