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Has Malaria Returned to the USA?

Although malaria is rare in the USA, recent reports indicate it may be on the rise here. The mosquito-borne illness is a frightening and often misunderstood disease. 

Most Americans who come down with malaria get it during a trip overseas. However, that’s not always the case.

Today, we’ll share details about the infection and how to protect yourself from getting it.  

Let’s check it out!

Aedes mosquito is sucking blood on human skin. The Aedes mosquito is not known to transmit malaria.
The Aedes mosquito is not known to transmit malaria, but its Anopheles cousin does.

CDC Issues Malaria Alert Following New Cases in the USA

In July 2023, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported five malaria cases within the US. Four were in the Florida panhandle, while one appeared in south Texas. 

Concerningly, these instances don’t involve people who traveled to parts of the world where the illness is common. They apparently caught it within the country.

In many parts of the world, malaria is a big concern. Symptoms range from fever and fatigue to anemia and jaundice. If left untreated, it can be fatal. In fact, it causes hundreds of thousands of deaths across the world annually.

The CDC issued a public health alert so citizens know malaria is showing up in the USA.

What Is Malaria?

Malaria isn’t a virus or bacterial infection. Instead, it results from a parasite infecting a specific type of mosquito. When the insect bites a human, it spreads the parasite into the person’s bloodstream.

There are five malaria strains, but the most common are P. vivax and P. falciparum. Infections from P. vivax tend to be mild and are rarely fatal. On the other hand, P. falciparum infections are much more severe. This strain caused most of the malaria-related deaths that occurred in 2021.

Symptoms vary individually, but most people who contract malaria experience a fever and chills. Other symptoms include headache, vomiting, abdominal cramping, body pain, increased heart rate, and rapid breathing.

Some folks become anemic, and experience reduced blood cell counts. When this happens, jaundice, which causes yellowing of the skin and eyes, may also occur.

Most who catch malaria experience symptoms within the first few weeks. But in rare cases, it can take months to show up.

Has Malaria Always Been in the USA?

You might think of malaria as a tropical disease that only exists in certain parts of the world. However, it exists nearly everywhere but is concentrated in specific locations. 

Typically, the US experiences just a handful of cases each year. But it wasn’t always that way.

Malaria was once more common in the USA than it is now. As a mosquito-borne disease, it spreads quickly in areas where the insects thrive. And before malaria control efforts became common, the conditions in the American South were a perfect breeding ground for the illness.

One of the first control projects happened near the Tennessee River, which the US government hoped to use for hydroelectric power and commerce. During this time, officials discovered nearly 30 percent of the citizens in the area were afflicted with the disease. 

Through water monitoring and using insecticides, the Tennesse Valley Authority helped dramatically reduce the number of infections.

By the 1940s, the federal government sponsored a country-wide effort to eliminate the illness. Thirteen states used mosquito pesticides in problematic areas and observed water sources. Cases dropped so low across the US by 1951 that the disease was essentially gone.

Mosquitoes aren’t the only tiny dangers: Have Life-Threatening Bacteria Really Been Found in the Atlantic Ocean?

How To Protect Yourself From Mosquitoes That Transmit Malaria

Although your chances of getting malaria in the USA are low, it’s a disease you want to avoid. So what’s the best way to protect yourself from it?

The simplest method to prevent malaria is by using repellent. When choosing bug spray, find one containing an EPA-approved ingredient such as DEET, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus. And if you’re in a mosquito-dense area, wear long sleeves, pants, and shoes with socks.

It’s also a good idea to keep your lawn and shrubs trimmed and look for sources of standing water on your property. 

If you travel someplace where malaria is common, take extra precautions. Avoid spending time outside when mosquitoes are most active such as sunrise and sunset. 

Do your best to keep the insects out of your living space, and consider buying a mosquito net if necessary. Your doctor may also prescribe an antimalarial medication depending on where you travel.

Sprays with DEET may be the best protection against mosquitoes: Repel 100 Insect Repellent.

Woman Applying Insect Repellent Against Mosquito and Tick During Hike in Nature. Protect yourself against disease-carrying mosquitoes.
Protect yourself against disease-carrying mosquitoes

Should You Worry About Catching Malaria In the USA?

The USA experiences a handful of malaria infections every year. But that’s no cause for panic! Your chances of contracting the disease domestically are low.

Few cases are on record in the USA since the malaria control projects of the 1940s and 1950s. Not much has changed since the government declared the disease eliminated. While doctors diagnose nearly 2,000 people here yearly, almost all involve trips to high-risk areas.

Living in this country makes you much more likely to contract a different mosquito-borne illness. For example, in 2021, about 3,000 folks contracted the West Nile Virus. A couple hundred of those people died, making it a much riskier disease than malaria.

Deep dive: 5 Cheap Ways To Get Rid of Mosquitoes.

Malaria in the US Isn’t a Cause For Alarm

Malaria is responsible for thousands of deaths each year. It’s a severe illness that causes many people pain and suffering. However, the future looks bright as vaccines and medications become available worldwide, and case numbers continue to decrease annually.

Will the world ever get rid of this illness altogether? The truth is, probably not. But with access to medical care and proper prevention, we may be able to drastically reduce infections globally, just like we did in the US.

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