Emergence of Multidrug-Resistant Plasmodium Falciparum in Thailand: In Vitro Tracking

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  • Department of Immunology and Biochemistry, Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Sciences (AFRIMS), Malaria Division, Ministry of Public Health, Institute of Specific Prophylaxis and Tropical Medicine, University of Vienna, Bangkok, Thailand
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Mefloquine was introduced into Thailand in 1985 for the treatment of Plasmodium falciparum infection. Recently, clinical failure of mefloquine was observed in southeastern Thailand, where an epidemic of falciparum malaria occurred. Beginning in 1984 and continuing until 1989, in vitro monitoring of P. falciparum isolates from Borai, a border district in the southeastern part of the country, showed a progressive decrease in mefloquine sensitivity until 1989; in 1990, the degree and prevalence of resistance accelerated. A similar pattern of resistance was observed for halofantrine, an antimalarial drug not yet commercially available in Thailand. In vitro sensitivity patterns of mefloquine and halofantrine elsewhere in the country remained relatively unchanged. These observations suggest a serious deterioration in available drugs for the treatment of falciparum malaria in southeastern Thailand that is predicted to spread throughout the country and Southeast Asia.