UNITED States (US) health officials have issued a warning following the identification of five cases of malaria in Florida and Texas among individuals who had not recently travelled overseas.
This has raised concerns about the possibility of local transmission of the life-threatening disease within the country.
Authorities in Florida have confirmed four locally transmitted malaria cases in Sarasota County since May, with an additional case identified in Cameron County, Texas.
These cases mark the first instances of local transmission within the United States since 2003.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has assured the public that all patients have received treatment and are currently recovering.
The CDC emphasised that there was currently no evidence to suggest a connection between the cases in Florida and Texas.
Nevertheless, investigations have revealed that at least two individuals, one in Florida and another in Texas, had spent prolonged periods outdoors, raising questions about potential exposure to infected mosquitoes.
The CDC also cited an increased risk of “imported malaria cases” as the summer travel season unfolds.
Malaria, a curable yet dangerous illness, is primarily transmitted to humans 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.
According to the CDC, all five cases involve the P. vivax malaria strain and although this strain is less likely to cause severe or fatal infections compared to other strains, it can lead to relapsing malaria episodes as the parasites hide 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, stressed that it was not a time for panic but rather for heightened awareness, as malaria is often not a concern for Americans unless they travel abroad.
While malaria is most prevalent in warm countries, particularly those with tropical climates, the disease was once a significant public health issue in the United States before it was officially eradicated in 1970 after being declared eliminated in 1951.
Globally, malaria continues to be a serious disease, with over 240 million infections occurring each year, predominantly in African countries.
The recent cases serve as a stark reminder of the importance of finding a cure or vaccine for malaria which will not only have significant implications for global health, but would also bolster disease control measures within the US.
In an effort to mitigate the risk of malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases, the CDC has urged the public to apply insect repellents, use screens on windows and doors, and regularly drain items that hold water.
Travellers heading overseas are also advised to pack bug spray and consider staying in accommodations with air conditioning, window and door screens, or using mosquito nets for protection.
Furthermore, the CDC has recommended that hospitals maintain access to malaria tests and stock up on treatments, while public health officials should develop rapid identification, prevention, and control plans to effectively respond to any potential outbreaks.