Malaria Found In U.S. For First Time In 20 Years

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a nationwide advisory to alert health care providers and public health authorities about the discovery of Malaria in the U.S. for the first time in 20 years.

The Anopheles mosquito can infect a person with the malaria parasite.
 Paul Starosta/Getty Images

In late May, Sarasota County, Florida, health officials confirmed they had identified a case of locally transmitted malaria. In mid-June, they confirmed the second. On June 26, after an additional two cases were confirmed, Florida health officials issued a statewide mosquito-borne illness advisory.

Meanwhile, Texas joined in: On June 23, its state health department announced it had confirmed a case of local malaria transmission in Cameron County.

That’s a total of five cases in the past month. This is all highly unusual: Until now, the US hadn’t documented a locally acquired malaria case in 20 years. On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a nationwide advisory to alert health care providers and public health authorities about the possibility of locally acquired malaria in people with fevers of unclear origin.

Although about 2,000 people infected with malaria turn up in the US health care system every year, those cases are all linked to travel outside the US. Neither those involved in the Florida cases nor the Texas case had traveled. That means in both states, the infection was acquired within US borders.

Experts say the cases shouldn’t warrant panic about widespread malaria transmission in the US. But it does warrant asking some questions, and being wary of the threat of more local transmission. Mosquitoes can infect multiple people before a full-on outbreak is even identified — so more cases could be out there.

Even if this turns out not to be widespread, it’s a good reminder: Malaria could make a comeback in the US, and we — and our public health infrastructure — ought to be prepared. This is especially true as a changing climate and shifting weather patterns increasingly drive mosquito migration into new places worldwide, allowing malaria to settle in where it hasn’t before.

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