Kerala detects rare malaria-causing parasite in soldier who returned from Sudan

Health Minister KK Shailaja said that ‘plasmodium ovale’ was found in a soldier who was being treated in Kannur.
K K Shailaja
K K Shailaja
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Kerala has reported a rare species of the plasmodium parasite that causes malaria in people. Kerala Health Minister KK Shailaja on Thursday said that ‘plasmodium ovale’ has been detected in the state during the hospitalisation of a soldier, who had recently returned to Kannur from Sudan.

“Plasmodium ovale, a new genus of malaria, has been detected in the State. It was found in a soldier who was being treated at the District hospital in Kannur. The soldier had come from Sudan. The spread of the disease can be avoided with timely treatment and preventive measures,” tweeted the Minister. Many Twitter users, however, were quick to point out that the plasmodium ovale is a species as opposed to a genus, and is only new to the state, and not the world.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), malaria is caused by five parasite species with plasmodium falciparum and plasmodium vivax being the most common. A person gets malaria after being bitten by an infected female Anopheles mosquito. The Anopheles mosquito bites between dusk and dawn. The plasmodium ovale parasite is found mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and the islands of western Pacific, but has also been reported in New Guinea and the Philippines. These cases outside of Africa are, however, reportedly rare.

In her Facebook post, Shailaja wrote, "Usually plasmodium ovale is found in African countries. It is not as dangerous as falciparum malaria. The treatment given for malaria caused by ovale is the same as given to malaria caused by other species. In Kerala, usually plasmodium falciparum and plasmodium vivax cause malaria.

"Headache, fever, muscle aches, fatigue, severe sweating, cough, anorexia, abdominal pain, diarrhea etc are some of the symptoms of people who are diagnosed with plasmodium ovale malaria. As per one study, malaria caused by the plasmodium ovale parasite rarely causes severe illness or death. However, there is a possibility of the disease relapse occurring several months after the malarial infection.

"Plasmodium ovale is a relapsing infection in that secondary infections can be generated from latent parasites in the liver. These are often asymptomatic infections that are detected only by the continued examination of peripheral blood films. Relapses occurred as early as 17 days after treatment of the primary attack to as late as 255 days," says a report by the American Society for Microbiology.

There were an estimated 229 million cases of malaria across the world in 2019, with 409,000 deaths, according to the WHO. 

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