Health officials in the United States have issued a warning following the identification of five cases of malaria in Florida and Texas, involving individuals with no recent travel history overseas.
This development has sparked concerns about the potential for local transmission of the life-threatening disease within the country.
The cases have been concentrated in Sarasota County, Florida, where four instances of locally transmitted malaria have been confirmed since May. Another case has been identified in Cameron County, Texas.
These occurrences mark the first instances of local transmission within the US since 2003, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have reassured the public that all affected patients have received appropriate treatment and are currently in the recovery phase.
However, investigations are underway to determine any potential links between the cases in Florida and Texas after it was discovered that at least two individuals, one in Florida and another in Texas, had spent extended periods outdoors, raising concerns about possible exposure to infected mosquitoes.
Furthermore, the CDC has issued a warning about the heightened risk of “imported malaria cases” as the summer travel season unfolds.
Travellers are urged to exercise increased vigilance and take preventive measures to reduce the chances of infection.
Malaria, a dangerous yet curable disease, is primarily transmitted through mosquito bites from infected mosquitoes carrying the malaria parasite.
However, it can also be transmitted through infected blood during transfusions, organ transplants, or from a pregnant mother to her fetus.
The five cases reported in Florida and Texas involve the P. vivax malaria strain. While this strain is generally associated with milder infections compared to other strains, it can lead to recurring episodes of malaria as the parasites lay dormant in the liver and reemerge months or even years later.
An associate professor of pathology and international health at Case Western Reserve University Brian Grimberg, emphasized the need for heightened awareness without succumbing to panic.
Malaria is typically not a concern for Americans unless they travel abroad, although the disease was once a significant public health issue in the United States before its official eradication in 1970.
To mitigate the risk of malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases, the CDC has urged the public to take preventive measures such as applying insect repellent, installing screens on windows and doors, and regularly eliminating stagnant water sources.
Travellers heading overseas are advised to pack bug spray and consider accommodations with appropriate protection, such as air conditioning, window and door screens, or mosquito nets.
Additionally, the CDC recommends that hospitals maintain access to malaria tests and stock up on treatments, while public health officials should devise comprehensive plans for rapid identification, prevention, and control to effectively respond to any potential outbreaks.