Imported malaria into Australia: Surveillance insights and opportunities

Asma Sohail, Alyssa Barry, Sarah Auburn, Qin Cheng, Colleen L. Lau, Rogan Lee, Ric N. Price, Luis Furuya-Kanamori, Paolo Bareng, Sarah L. McGuinness, Karin Leder

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Background: Malaria continues to pose a significant burden in endemic countries, many of which lack access to molecular surveillance. Insights from malaria cases in travellers returning to non-endemic areas can provide valuable data to inform endemic country programmes. To evaluate the potential for novel global insights into malaria, we examined epidemiological and molecular data from imported malaria cases to Australia.

Methods: We analysed malaria cases reported in Australia from 2012 to 2022 using National Notifiable Disease Surveillance System data. Molecular data on imported malaria cases were obtained from literature searches.

Results: Between 2012 and 2022, 3204 malaria cases were reported in Australia. Most cases (69%) were male and 44% occurred in young adults aged 20–39 years. Incidence rates initially declined between 2012 and 2015, then increased until 2019. During 2012–2019, the incidence in travellers ranged from 1.34 to 7.71 per 100 000 trips. Cases were primarily acquired in Sub-Saharan Africa (n = 1433; 45%), Oceania (n = 569; 18%) and Southern and Central Asia (n = 367; 12%). The most common countries of acquisition were Papua New Guinea (n = 474) and India (n = 277). Plasmodium falciparum accounted for 58% (1871/3204) of cases and was predominantly acquired in Sub-Saharan Africa, and Plasmodium vivax accounted for 32% (1016/3204), predominantly from Oceania and Asia. Molecular studies of imported malaria cases to Australia identified genetic mutations and deletions associated with drug resistance and false-negative rapid diagnostic test results, and led to the establishment of reference genomes for P. vivax and Plasmodium malariae.

Conclusions: Our analysis highlights the continuing burden of imported malaria into Australia. Molecular studies have offered valuable insights into drug resistance and diagnostic limitations, and established reference genomes. Integrating molecular data into national surveillance systems could provide important infectious disease intelligence to optimize treatment guidelines for returning travellers and support endemic country surveillance programmes.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbertaad164
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Travel Medicine
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2024


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