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Amid Dengue Fever Outbreak, Vietnam Confirms Cases of 'Super Malaria'

While localities in northern Vietnam are struggling to contain this year’s serious Dengue fever outbreak, epidemiologists just revealed that people living in the southern provinces are facing a strain of highly drug-resistant malaria superbug.

According to a letter written by scientists and published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases journal last Thursday, The Washington Post reports, some southern areas in the Mekong Delta have already spotted the presence of the resistant superbug, spread into the country from western Cambodia.

One of the document’s authors, Nicholas White, stressed in a press release that the new strain of malaria is a matter of public health emergency to be dealt with urgently.

In April, Vietnam's Ministry of Health shared that artemisinin-resistant malaria cases have been reported in five southern provinces and was likely to spread to the rest of the country.

Artemisinin, a compound derived from traditional Chinese medicine, is currently the main component of the most common anti-malaria treatment today against the parasite Plasmodium falciparum.

Previously, a study done by White and a team of research partners showed that some patients in northeastern Thailand, southern Laos and western Cambodia contracted the superbug, which was the main reason for the high treatment failure rate of artemisinin combination therapies.

New research shows the superbugs are causing high treatment failure rates in north-eastern Thailand, southern Laos and western Cambodia for the main falciparum malaria medicines, which are known in medical terms as artemisinin ​combination therapies.

The strain of the malaria parasite found in the blood samples from these patients could be traced back to a single lineage, known as PfKelch13 C580Y, which has enhanced resistance to artemisinin.

"We are losing a dangerous race to eliminate artemisinin resistant falciparum malaria before widespread resistance to the partner anti-malarials makes that impossible," White emphasized in the letter.

In 2015, Chinese scientist Tu Youyou was awarded half of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Medicince for her discovery of artemisinin from the plant Artemisia annua, or sweet wormwood. At the moment, China and Vietnam account for 70% of the supply of raw wormwood globally.

[Photo via Flickr user Tom]

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