A rare type of malaria, previously not reported in Kerala, was identified in a soldier in Kannur district of the state, nearly a year after he arrived from Sudan where he was posted as part of the Indian peacekeeping operations, authorities said.
The jawan, in his 40s, is believed to have contracted the Plasmodium ovale, a type of malaria caused by a bite from a female Anopheles mosquito, during his time in Sudan as it is endemic to that region. In contrast, the common types of malaria reported in India are the ones with more severe consequences such as Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax.
“The jawan had returned to India from Sudan in January this year and was in Delhi. A month ago, he came to Kerala and shortly after, he began experiencing fever and other symptoms. When we tested him for Covid-19, the reports came back negative,” said Dr Rajeevan, medical superintendent at the district hospital in Kannur where he was treated.
“Since he had come from Delhi, we decided to test him for malaria. And on the slide, we could see the parasite inside the red blood cell sample. In Kerala, we usually see malaria types like Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax. So we did a rapid antigen test to detect the strain and we found that it was negative for both types. When we investigated further, we diagnosed it as Plasmodium ovale.”
Dr Rajeevan said it was possible for the parasite to remain in the spleen or liver of the human body for a long time, even years, after the mosquito bite and become symptomatic later. That is what could have happened in the case of the jawan, he said.
Once the jawan was diagnosed with the imported case of malaria, doctors at the district hospital commenced treatment and preventive measures in accordance with the protocol laid out as part of the state’s integrated diseases surveillance programme (IDSP). A statement from the office of the health minister KK Shailaja said the timely detection of the rare type of malaria and prompt treatment prevented the spread of the disease. Being a mosquito-borne disease, human to human transmission of malaria is impossible, but the disease has the potential to spread through a vector.
“After his arrival in Kerala, he was in quarantine and therefore did not have public exposure. The chance of spread was low. We were also able to make a quick diagnosis,” said Dr Rajeevan. The jawan was discharged from hospital this week after a full recovery.
Dr Ramankutty V, health economist and epidemiologist, said Kerala’s robust disease surveillance mechanism and treatment protocols have been successful in containing malaria over the years.
“At one time, we had no cases at all. But in recent years, there have been a few imported cases which we have been able to contain successfully using our protocols. So there’s no reason to fear as such,” he said.