Drug-resistant malaria reported in Myanmar and Vietnam

A recent study showed that artemisinin-resistant malaria is showing up in Myanmar and Vietnam, building on earlier drug resistant malaria reports in western Cambodia and along the border between Myanmar and Thailand.

Researchers reported the results of the study on Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in Atlanta, NPR reports.

"Showing that resistance is emerging outside of western Cambodia is a game changer," Rick Fairhurst, the co-chair of the study, said, according to NPR. "There are other places, up and coming, that we'll have to be deal with now."

Fairhurst and his team closely monitored 883 malaria patients at 12 locations in Laos, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia over the last 1.5 years. The team measured how fast the Plasmodium parasite left the blood of patients after being given artemisinin.

Drug-resistant spots in western Cambodia took the longest time, which was expected. The researchers did not, however, expect some patients in Vietnam and central Myanmar to have such a slow recovery time.

Some attendees of the meeting were hesitant to say that the slow parasite drug clearance was simply the result of drug resistance.

Fairhurst said that doctors can still use artemisinin to treat malaria in Vietnam and Myanmar, but that they must be especially careful and potentially add a separate medication to completely wipe out the parasite.

"We may need to get more serious about using a second drug to kill the gametocytes (one stage of the parasite)," Fairhurst said, according to NPR. "The guidelines say to do this, but it is not in widespread use."

The study is ongoing and has not found slow recovery in Bangladesh or Laos. Fairhurst said that he is hopeful that health workers can keep one step ahead of artemisinin resistance before it spreads, NPR reports.