The naturally occurring clonal diversity among field isolates of the major human malaria parasite Plasmodium vivax
remained unexplored until the early 1990s, when improved molecular methods allowed the use of blood samples obtained directly from patients, without prior in vitro culture, for genotyping purposes. Here we briefly review the molecular strategies currently used to detect genetically distinct clones in patient-derived P. vivax
samples, present evidence that multiple-clone P. vivax
infections are commonly detected in areas with different levels of malaria transmission and discuss possible evolutionary and epidemiological consequences of the competition between genetically distinct clones in natural human infections. We suggest that, when two or more genetically distinct clones are present in the same host, intra-host competition for limited resources may select for P. vivax
traits that represent major public health challenges, such as increased virulence, increased transmissibility and antimalarial drug resistance.