The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a warning about a few cases of malaria.  Cases have been spreading in Florida and Texas. It’s the first time in 20 years that locally acquired cases have been found in the US.

There have been five reported cases of malaria contracted by people within the United States. Four cases have been reported in Florida and one in Texas. All of them have occurred within the past two months. Having these infections is cause for concern among health officials. This type of infection has not been observed since 2003.

Background of malaria

The CDC alert mentions that malaria infections in the US aren’t unheard of. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the country used to have around 2,000 malaria cases each year. According to the CDC, most malaria cases in the U.S. are usually found in people who traveled to places where malaria is common. Having these five infections pop up in Florida and Texas, with no travel involved, means mosquitoes got infected and passed the parasite to them.

There are effective treatments and ways to deal with malaria in the U.S., even though the treatment itself might not be a walk in the park. Back in the day, malaria was all too common in the U.S. But thanks to the National Malaria Eradication Program in the ’40s and ’50s, it was eliminated and declared non-endemic in the country.

Symptoms of malaria

When it comes to malaria, the CDC considers it a serious medical emergency that can be deadly. This is especially true for children under five and pregnant women. The symptoms can vary from mild to life-threatening. They can resemble flu-like symptoms and may include an enlarged spleen, enlarged liver, or mild jaundice.

A distinctive characteristic of malaria is what’s known as a malaria attack, during which an infected person experiences a specific period of illness lasting about six to ten hours. These attacks have three stages: a cold stage characterized by chills and shivering, a hot phase with fever, headaches, vomiting, and potential seizures in children, and finally, a sweating stage where the temperature returns to normal. Apparently, patients go through these attacks in cycles throughout their infection.

Types of Malaria

There are four types of malaria, and the cases detected in the United States have been caused by the P. vivax parasite. Out of the 200+ mosquito species in the continental U.S. and its territories, there are two specific species capable of carrying and spreading P. vivax. Now, here’s the thing you should know. It takes 10 to 15 days for the P. vivax parasite to develop inside a mosquito and become transmissible. That means the spread of malaria may not be immediately noticeable, especially if people ignore the symptoms.

Treating malaria

In treating infections caused by P. vivax, the anti-malaria drug chloroquine does the trick. But here’s the catch: cases associated with this parasite may require additional treatment. What’s interesting about P. vivax is that it’s one of two forms of malaria that can lie dormant in the liver. This parasite can cause recurring illness for months or even years. According to the CDC, most malaria cases will need medical intervention to be resolved. And specifically for P. vivax cases, primaquine is used to target the dormant parasite hiding in the liver.

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