The malaria parasite is well known for hijacking red blood cells in its potentially deadly quest to spread to its next unsuspecting victim via a mosquito bite.
But scientists have discovered it has another surprising trick up its sleeve: it can lurk undetected in the spleen, which filters blood.
The discovery, reported today in the journals New England Journal of Medicine and PLOS Medicine, not only rewrites what we know about the biology of this insidious disease, but it has important implications for malaria elimination programs, researchers say.
"What we found is that there are some people walking around that have malaria parasites in their spleen and not in their [circulating] blood," said lead author Steven Kho, of the Menzies School of Health Research.
This means they may not be picked up by screening programs, which look for evidence of the parasite in the circulating blood.