An ‘unusual’ malaria outbreak in Laos has highlighted the threat of drug-resistance in countries edging closer to elimination.
The rapid emergence of a new drug-resistant malaria parasite in Laos has triggered an “unusual” jump in cases and sparked concern among experts.
Between 2019 and 2020, malaria cases in Attapeu, a region in southern Laos, surged from 378 to 868 – an 130 per cent increase in an area where infections have consistently been falling.
Across Southeast Asia, several countries are close to wiping out malaria, and other regions in Laos saw cases fall by 65 per cent over the same period.
“This peak in Attapeu was very unusual,” said Prof Olivo Miotto, head of the GenRe-Mekong Genetic Surveillance project at the Mahidol-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit in Bangkok. “The concern was not so much the absolute number, it was that the trend had reversed – because that could be an indication that things are going wrong.”
But now, scientists tracking the outbreak have linked it to the spread of a drug-resistant malaria parasite, which gained an advantage after the antimalarials used in neighbouring countries were changed.
Experts compared the shift to the emergence omicron, which replaced delta as the most widespread Covid-19 variant in late 2021.
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