Malaria Jumps from Chimps to Humans

Jenny Decker RN's picture
Malaria and shimps

Among one of the most severe infectious agents to humans is Plasmodium falciparum. This infectious agent causes a severe and deadly form of malaria. The closest known relative to P. falciparum is the chimpanzee parasite referred to as Plasmodium reichenowi. It is estimated that this agent may have transferred from chimpanzees to human as little as 10,000 years ago.

Until today’s report from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, it was believed that Plasmodium falciparum was closely related to Plasmodium gallinaceum. P. gallinaceum is a chicken parasite. P. falciparum was thought to have evolved from an avian parasite. However, now it is believed to come from chimpanzees. Interestingly, the anthropologist Dr. Frank B. Livingstone thought it was very possible that P. faciparum, the malignant malaria, may have jumped from chimpanzee to human.


According to the research article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, the reason chimps were studied is because of how closely related chimpanzees and humans are to each other. The more closely related, the more likely infectious agents are to jump from one host to another. Thus, the Plasmodium reichenowi jumped from chimpanzee to human, resulting in malignant malaria.

The researchers in the report state that it is very possible the first step was taken to develop a vaccination to the deadly form of malaria. In order to do this, the history behind the specific form of malaria. P. falciparum is one of four human malaria parasites that may have come from Old World monkeys. P. falciparum is the most virulent and accounts for about 85% of all malaria cases, with nearly all of the mortality as well.

Malaria symptoms include fever, chills, diarrhea, and shortness of breath, as well as nausea and vomiting. Malaria kills red blood cells and attacks the liver. If symptoms are not treated, neurological and cognitive problems may result. Death may even occur, especially in children.