‚Monkey Malaria‘ Is Poised To Become More Deadly—and More Transmissible

Image: shankar s./Flickr/CC BY 2.0
Image: shankar s./Flickr/CC BY 2.0
A species of malaria-causing parasite that is increasingly being transmitted from macaques to humans in South Asia has the potential to evolve into a more virulent form that is also capable of being efficiently transmitted from human to human. This is according to a paper published Monday morning in the journal Nature Communications by researchers at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.

By Michael Byrne|MOTHERBOARD

P. knowlesi, aka „monkey malaria,“ has been stalking the Earth already for some 257,000 years, but in that time the parasite has largely left humans out of its business. In some large part this has to do with a relative lack of overlap between human populations and macaque populations. As such, mosquitoes get to feast on the blood of one species or the other but rarely both.

Lately, however, monkey malaria has become a significant human threat in the countries of South Asia, particularly Borneo. In February, researchers were able to link massive deforestation in that country to the parasite’s increasing spread—it turns out that one species of macaque known to carry P. knowlesi thrives on deforested land. Put this together with a general increase in human encroachment on macaque territory in the region and we have an ideal case for introducing the parasite to human populations in far greater numbers.

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Africa Is About To Fall Off An HIV Cliff

U.S. Army medical researchers take part in World Malaria Day 2010, Kisumu, Kenya, April 25, 2010 By Rick Scavetta, U.S. Army Africa CC-BY-2.0
U.S. Army medical researchers take part in World Malaria Day 2010, Kisumu, Kenya, April 25, 2010. By Rick Scavetta, U.S. Army Africa
Current HIV statistics for Sub-Saharan Africa are grim. The region, which makes up the bulk of the African continent, saw 1.5 million new infections in 2013. It also saw 1.1 million HIV deaths. Swaziland, an especially hard-hit nation, has a staggering HIV prevalence, with nearly a third of residents infected with the virus. Only about 40 percent of those infected across the entire Sub-Saharan expanse are receiving treatment. And the situation is only poised to get worse.

By Michael Byrne|MOTHERBOARD

Researchers from Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health have calculated the ongoing costs of controlling HIV in nine Sub-Saharan nations, from 2015 to 2050, and found that to maintain current (inadequate) management and treatment programs will require $98 billion in funding. That shoots to $261 billion if HIV efforts are increased. This is money the region doesn’t have, setting its residents up for a very dire future if dedicated funding sources aren’t found soon.

The Harvard group’s work is published in the current BMJ Open in a study led by Rifat Atun, a professor of global health systems at Harvard.

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The Zoologist Who Says Climate Change Will Usher in a New Age of Disease

A person stands in protective equipment at a "Fighting Ebola Workshop." (Photo: Ted Eytan)
A person stands in protective equipment at a „Fighting Ebola Workshop.“ (Photo: Ted Eytan)
Over the last couple days, zoologist Daniel Brooks’ findings about how climate change is fueling the spread of infectious diseases have b​een inspired despairing headlines around the world. But when I spoke with the man over the phone, he was optimistic—for someone who thinks huma​nity is facing “the death of a thousand cuts,” anyway.


“It’s serious, but it’s not bleak,” Brooks said of the broader effects of climate change. “Nobody thinks all species are going to get wiped out.”

The conclusions drawn from his research are, indeed, serious. Over 30 years, Brooks and his colleague Eric Hoberg have studied how climate change has affected parasites in very different ecosystems, from the tropics to the Arctic. They discovered that pathogens are being spread more widely and more easily than previously thought, meaning outbreaks of Ebola, West Nile virus, and other diseases will be more frequent in the future.

“Climate change causes movement of species and new connections of species,” Brooks said. “As you get hosts moving around, the pathogens move around as well. And then the pathogens come into contact with hosts they’ve never seen before.”

The introduction of pathogens to new environments will cause more frequent and expansive epidemics.

„It’s not that there’s going to be one ‚Andromeda Strain‘ that will wipe everybody out on the planet,“ Brooks said in a st​atement, referencing a science fiction film about a deadly pathogen by that name. „There are going to be a lot of localized outbreaks putting pressure on medical and veterinary health systems. It will be the death of a thousand cuts.“

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