Red blood cells (RBCs) must deform considerably during their multiple passages through the microvasculature and the sinusoids of the spleen. RBCs infected with Plasmodium falciparum (Pf-IRBCs) become increasingly rigid as they mature but avoid splenic clearance by sequestering in venules and capillaries. In contrast, RBCs infected with P. vivax (Pv-IRBCs) do not sequester. We compared the effects of P. vivax and P. falciparum infection on RBC deformability in a laminar shear flow system. Pf-IRBCs became more rigid as the parasite matured, but equivalent maturation of Pv-IRBCs resulted in a doubling of flexibility. Coincidentally, the IRBC surface area increased from 56.7+/-1.3 microm2 to 74.7+/-0.6 microm2 to 90.9+/-1.1 microm2 in ring-, trophozoite-, and schizont-stage Pv-IRBCs, respectively, whereas Pf-IRBCs did not increase in size. P. vivax increases the deformability of IRBCs and thereby avoids splenic entrapment.