In 2011, 1,925 malaria cases were reported in the United States, according to data published in a supplement of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This number is the highest since 1971, more than 40 years ago, and represents a 14% increase since 2010. Five people in the U.S. died from malaria or associated complications.
Almost all of the malaria cases reported in the U.S. were acquired overseas. More than two-thirds (69%) of the cases were imported from Africa, and nearly two-thirds (63%) of those were acquired in West Africa. For the first time, India was the country from which the most cases were imported. Cases showed seasonal peaks in January and August.
“Malaria isn’t something many doctors see frequently in the United States thanks to successful malaria elimination efforts in the 1940s,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D, M.P.H. “The increase in malaria cases reminds us that Americans remain vulnerable and must be vigilant against diseases like malaria because our world is so interconnected by travel.”
Malaria is caused by a parasite transmitted by the bite of an infective female Anopheles mosquito. Malaria affects between 220 – 300 million people worldwide every year. In 2010, it caused an estimated 660,000 deaths. Some estimated go as high as 1 million deaths. A great majority of deaths occur in young children in Africa, where adequate healthcare is frequently unavailable. Young children are more susceptible to malaria because children eat anything that they come across and they also like playing in gardens where most insects are.
The signs and symptoms of malaria illness are varied, but the majority of patients have fever. Other common symptoms include headache, back pain, chills, increased sweating, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and cough. Untreated infections can rapidly progress to coma, kidney failure, respiratory distress, and death.
“Malaria is preventable. In most cases, these illnesses and deaths could have been avoided by taking recommended precautions,” said Laurence Slutsker, M.D., M.P.H., director of CDC’s Division of Parasitic Diseases and Malaria. “We have made great strides in preventing and controlling malaria around the world. However, malaria persists in many areas and the use of appropriate prevention measures by travelers is still very important.”
Travelers to areas with malaria transmission can prevent the disease by taking steps such as use of antimalarial drugs, insect repellent, insecticide-treated bed nets, and protective clothing.
Travelers in the United States should consult a health-care provider prior to international travel to receive needed information, medications, and vaccines. CDC provides advice on malaria prevention recommendations on-line (www.cdc.gov/malaria/travelers/drugs.html). If a traveler has symptoms of malaria, such as fever, headaches, and other flu-like symptoms, while abroad or on returning home, he or she should immediately seek diagnosis and treatment from a health-care provider.
Clinicians should consult the CDC Guidelines for Treatment of Malaria and contact CDC’s Malaria Hotline for case management advice, as needed. Malaria treatment recommendations can be obtained online (www.cdc.gov/malaria/diagnosis_treatment) or by calling the Malaria Hotline (770-488-7788 or toll-free at 855-856-4713).
As the nation’s lead public health agency, CDC helps protect the health of people traveling from the United States to areas where malaria is transmitted, as well as of people living in those areas. At home, CDC monitors rates in the United States, develops prevention guidelines, and works with physicians to diagnose and treat malaria. Abroad, CDC and its partners, including the U.S. Agency for International Development, the World Health Organization, and Ministries of Health in malaria-endemic countries, develop guidance for programs and policy makers, implement prevention and control programs, and conduct scientific research.
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