Zoonotic transmission of malaria has been confirmed in recent cases in the Atlantic Forest region of southern Brazil

Zoonotic diseases are infectious diseases of animals (usually vertebrates) that can be transmitted naturally to humans.

Malaria parasite usually infects primates

Malaria was eliminated from southern and south-eastern Brazil over 50 years ago. However, a number of cases each year in areas of the Atlantic Forest prompted researchers to investigate the possibility of zoonotic transmission – where human beings become infected via a mosquito bite – with a malaria parasite that usually infects monkeys.  

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28 Cases of malaria confirmed

Now, analysis of DNA samples has confirmed that 28 such cases of malaria were caused by zoonotic transmission. The study was published in The Lancet Global Health journal on 31 August 2017.

The authors of the analysis say that screening of local monkeys and mosquitoes will be required to evaluate the extent of the emerging zoonotic threat to public health and to the potential of malaria elimination in Brazil.

No current threat in Rio

“There is no evidence that zoonotic malaria can be transmitted from human to human via mosquitoes. In addition there is no current threat to people in the city of Rio de Janeiro, or in other non-forest areas of the Rio de Janeiro state, where transmission of the disease does not exist.”

Forest areas are problem for malaria control

“However, its unique mode of transmission via monkeys and the fact that it occurs in areas of high forest coverage mean that zoonotic malaria poses a unique problem for malaria control efforts and may complicate the drive towards eventual elimination of the disease,” says author Dr Patrícia Brasil, Instituto Nacional de Infectologia Evandro Chagas, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Warning to visitors

“Although benign and treatable, visitors should follow measures to avoid insect bites when going into the forest,” adds Dr Brasil

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