New drug-resistant strains of the parasite that causes malaria have been identified by scientists.
Researchers found parasites in western Cambodia that are genetically different from other strains around the world.
These organisms are able to withstand treatment by artemisinin – a frontline drug in the fight against malaria.
Reports of drug resistance in the area first emerged in 2008. The problem has since spread to other parts of South East Asia.
The study is published in the journal Nature Genetics.
The lead author, Dr Olivo Miotto, of the University of Oxford and Mahidol University in Thailand, said: “All the most effective drugs that we have had in the last few decades have been one by one rendered useless by the remarkable ability of this parasite to mutate and develop resistance.
“Artemisinin right now works very well. It is the best weapon we have against the disease, and we need to keep it.”
Western Cambodia has been described by scientists as a hotspot for malaria resistance.
They do not understand why, but since the 1950s parasites there have developed a resistance to a succession of malaria drugs. The problem has spread to other parts of Asia and Africa.
Now scientists are worried the same thing will happen with artemisinin. This drug is used widely around the world against the mosquito-borne disease and can treat an infection in a few days when it is used in combination with other drugs.
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