The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a public health alert following the first cases of malaria being acquired inside the U.S in 20 years were reported.
Florida health officials earlier this month confirmed two more cases of malaria in the state, bringing the total up to six. Officials said the malaria infections happened in May and June.
The new cases brought the total number of acquired infections across the U.S. to seven, with six being reported in Sarasota County, Florida, and one in a Texas man working for the National Guard, according to NBC News.
Before COVID, around 2,000 cases of malaria were diagnosed in the U.S. each year, with the vast majority being among travelers and immigrants from regions where malaria is more common entering the country.
The seven infections in Florida and Texas are the first to actually be acquired inside the U.S. since 2003 and bring the total number of cases diagnosed in the state this year to 23.
Malaria is a flu-like illness that can be life-threatening if left untreated, according to the CDC. In 2020, there were an estimated 241 million malaria cases worldwide and 627,000 people, mainly children in sub-Saharan Africa, died.
In a June 26 health alert, the CDC said it is collaborating with Texas and Florida officials and that there is no evidence the cases in the two states are related.
The alert stated that the infected patients suffered from the plasmodium vivax strain of malaria, which has a good prognosis if treated early “and causes significantly fewer complications than falciparum malaria” found in subtropical areas, especially in Africa, according to a 2022 study by the Medical University of South Carolina.
An infectious disease specialist at Florida’s Sarasota Memorial Hospital, Dr. Manuel Gordillo, said the hospital treated four of the state’s malaria infections.
The patients, two of whom were homeless, were all diagnosed after being admitted to hospital suffering from fever and dehydration.
He told NBC News: “Some of the cases were sort of neglecting the symptoms and they presented way late with other complications.”
Dyann Wirth, an infectious diseases professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health told the network that while the cases were surprising, it was not unheard of.
He added: “This is not a panicking thing, but it’s also not something where we should say, ‘Well, it’s so unusual, we shouldn’t worry about it.’ It’s a warning to keep surveillance up.”
Malaria Symptoms and Treatment
Symptoms of malaria include fever, shaking chills, headache, muscle aches, and tiredness. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea may also occur. Malaria can also cause anemia and jaundice because of the loss of red blood cells.
Treatment for malaria depends on the strain of the disease, as well as the age of the patient, although it is recommended to begin immediately once the diagnosis has been made.
The CDC has recommended people to be aware of illnesses linked to mosquitoes and has advised the following:
- Take steps to prevent mosquito bites and control mosquitoes at home to protect yourself from any mosquito-borne illness.
- Before you travel, learn about the health risks and precautions for malaria and other diseases for your destination.
- If you are traveling internationally to an area where malaria occurs, talk to your healthcare provider about medicines to prevent you from getting malaria.
- If you have traveled to an area where malaria occurs and develop a fever, chills, headache, body aches, and fatigue, seek medical care and tell your healthcare provider where you had traveled.
Newsweek has contacted the Florida Department of Health for comment.
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