Researchers look into genetic change of P. vivax on Korean Peninsula

A significant genetic change in Plasmodium vivax occurred between 2002 and 2003 in South Korea, suggesting that the parasites were introduced from another population, according to research recently published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

A research team from the Japanese National Center for Global Health and Medicine, Inje University and the University of Tokyo analyzed 163 South Korean P. vivax isolates collected from soldiers who served in the demilitarized zone between North Korea and South Korea between 1994 and 2008. P. vivax is the second most prevalent species of the human malaria parasite. Vivax malaria was eliminated in South Korea by the late 1970s, but the disease reemerged in 1993.

The researchers sought to understand why, in spite of a continuous malaria control program spanning 20 years, efforts to eliminate vivax malaria in South Korea were unsuccessful.

The team found that while two genotypes of vivax malaria coexisted from 1994 to 2001, there were three different genotypes present from 2002 to 2008. The results suggest that vivax parasites were introduced from another population, most likely from North Korea, between 2002 and 2003.

The researchers said the findings showed the difficulty of malaria elimination by one country and the need for collaboration between two or more adjacent countries for effective malaria elimination.

The Japanese team suggested careful monitoring of all travelers coming from endemic areas of South Korea and collaboration between both nations to prevent the introduction of vivax malaria into Japan.