By Annette Pinder
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a health alert regarding the identification of malaria cases in Florida and Texas. The CDC says the cases are unrelated in the two states. However, those affected have been treated, are improving, and are being monitored.
According to the CDC, locally acquired mosquito-borne malaria has not occurred in the United States since 2003, and the risk of contracting the disease continues to remain low. However, Anopheles mosquito vectors, found in several regions of the country, can transmit malaria if they feed on a malaria-infected person. “The risk is higher in areas where local climatic conditions allow the Anopheles mosquito to survive during most of or the entire year, and where travelers from malaria-endemic areas are found,” says the CDC. As a result, the CDC is advising physicians to consider a malaria diagnosis in anyone who has a fever, and especially in those who have been in contact with people who have traveled to areas where malaria is transmitted.
The good news is that prompt diagnosis and treatment of malaria can prevent its progression to severe disease or death, and limit ongoing transmission to local Anopheles mosquitos. People can also take steps to prevent getting mosquito bites, and control them at home.
The CDC notes that malaria is a serious and potentially fatal disease transmitted through the bite of an infective female anopheline mosquito. Malaria can also be transmitted congenitally from mother to fetus or to the neonate at birth, through blood transfusion or organ transplantation, or through unsafe needle-sharing practices. More than 240 million cases of malaria occur in the world each year (95% in Africa). Nearly all cases of malaria in the United States are imported and occur in people traveling from countries with malaria transmission, many from sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Most cases are diagnosed during summer and early fall.
Malaria symptoms include fever, chills, headache, myalgias, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Symptoms typically begin 10 days to 4 weeks after infection; however, some are affected in just 7 days or as late as 1 year after infection. The CDC warns that, “Without proper treatment, malaria can progress to severe disease, a life-threatening stage in which mental status changes, seizures, renal failure, acute respiratory distress syndrome, and coma may occur. Malaria in pregnant people is associated with high risks of both maternal and perinatal morbidity and mortality.”
The CDC notes that malaria is a medical emergency and should be treated as such. Thus, individuals with symptoms should be evaluated in an emergency department within 24 hours of exhibiting symptoms.
The CDC urges the public to prevent mosquito bites by using an EPA-approved insect repellent; dressing your child in clothing that covers their arms and legs; covering strollers and baby carriers with mosquito netting; using screens on windows and doors; using air conditioning if possible; preventing mosquitos from laying eggs in or near water; and checking water-holding containers both indoors and outdoors.
For more information on steps you can take to control mosquitos inside and outside your home, visit https://www.cdc.gov/mosquitoes/mosquito-control/athome/index.html.