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Changes in malaria parasite may make Africans more susceptible

People with genetic protection from Plasmodium vivax have begun to fall ill

4:41pm, November 15, 2013

WASHINGTON — A form of malaria largely absent in sub-Saharan Africa has begun to make inroads there. Ominous signals are emerging simultaneously in population studies and under the microscope that Plasmodium vivax, a malaria parasite well known in Asia and Latin America, may have found a way to infect Africans. Researchers presented the results November 15 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

Most Africans and many African Americans carry a genetic trait that makes it hard for the vivax protozoan to infect their red blood cells. These people lack a receptor protein on their red blood cells called the Duffy protein. Missing this protein doesn’t seem to cause health problems. Rather, it’s a plus because P. vivax hijacks the Duffy protein to gain entry into red blood cells and commandeer them.

Didier Ménard of the Pasteur Institute in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, presented data from Madagascar revealing

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