Researchers have located a new malaria-causing parasite — Plasmodium Knowlesi — for the first time in humans in India.

A team of researchers, consisting of Manoj Kumar Das of the National Institute of Malaria Research (NIMR), Shiv S. Singh of G.B. Pant Hospital, Port Blair, Rupesh K. Tyagi and Yagya D. Sharma of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), have made this discovery. They located the plasmodium in tribal people in the Andaman and Nicobar islands.

Mr. Das, during his visit to the city, said monkeys, especially crab-eating ones found in the islands, served as hosts for this parasite. Mr. Das, who has spent 16 years of research as officer-in-charge of the field unit of the malaria research centre in the Car Nicobar island, received the ICMR award for senior bio-medical scientists for the year 2012-13 for his research.

From the infected monkeys that serve as its hosts, this parasite gets transmitted to humans through the Leucosphyrus group of Anopheles mosquitoes that serve as vectors, Mr. Das said.

Till date there has been no confirmatory report about any Plasmodium Knowlesi infection in the mainland.

It is likely that the parasite migrated to the islands from neighbouring south-east Asian countries, which have similar flora and fauna.

Poachers from Thailand and Indonesia are said to secretly visit the islands. “Probably this new malaria-causing parasite has been introduced to Indian islands through poachers,” Mr. Das said.

It was concluded that a larger populace in south-east Asia may be infected by the parasite, or this simian malaria, than the reported cases so far. The drug-resistance pattern of this parasite seems to be different from that of co-infecting parasites. Its existence would surely need a new approach in the malaria-control programmes as this parasite may behave differently if efficient human-to-human transmission occurs in future, Mr. Das added.