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Florida Issues Health Advisory as Malaria Spreads Locally for the First Time in 20 Years in the US

by Michael Nguyen
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malaria spread

In a significant development, the Florida Department of Health has issued a statewide advisory regarding mosquito-borne illnesses following the emergence of four locally acquired cases of malaria. These cases were reported along the Gulf Coast region located south of Tampa.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also released a health alert on Monday, confirming an additional case in Texas. This occurrence marks the first instance of local transmission of malaria in the United States in two decades.

According to the advisory from Florida’s Department of Health, all four affected residents in Sarasota County have received appropriate treatment and have successfully recovered. Malaria, caused by a parasite transmitted through Anopheles mosquito bites, presents symptoms such as fever, chills, sweating, nausea, vomiting, and headaches. It is important to note that malaria is not transmitted directly from person to person.

In other news, the CDC states that these malaria cases in Texas and Florida are the first instances of local transmission since 2003.

The potential threat of mosquito-borne illnesses has raised concerns among residents like Kathleen Gibson-Dee, residing on Terra Ceia Island, situated approximately 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Sarasota County. Despite no reported malaria cases in Manatee County, where Terra Ceia is located, Gibson-Dee now regularly uses bug repellent while working in her garden. She emphasized the increasing presence of bugs, including mosquitoes, particularly in the evenings.

Another resident, Tom Lyons, acknowledges that news of the malaria cases has made him take mosquito protection more seriously.

Terra Ceia is an island surrounded by shallow water and mangroves, providing an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes. Consequently, officials in Manatee County have intensified efforts to control the mosquito population. Chris Lesser, director of the Manatee County mosquito control district, states that helicopters are primarily deployed for mosquito control due to their ability to cover between 15,000 and 20,000 acres (6070 to 8082 hectares) in a single night. In comparison, a truck can only cover around 1,000 acres (404 hectares) within the same timeframe. Lesser highlights the focus on eliminating adult mosquitoes before they have the chance to bite an infected person and subsequently transmit the disease to another individual. The mosquito control activities will continue until the public health alert is lifted, which typically takes about 14 days—the time it takes for a mosquito to become infected and capable of transmission.

Similar tactics are being employed by officials in the Sarasota County area to control mosquitoes, as stated in the county’s health department advisory.

The initial advisory for malaria was issued in Sarasota County following the first reported case in late May. Subsequently, a second case was confirmed, followed by two more, prompting the alert. Jae Williams, the press secretary for the Florida Department of Health, compares this progression to the issuance of a hurricane watch versus a hurricane warning, signifying the increasing severity of the situation. Williams stresses the need for vigilance and attention, stating that favorable conditions exist for the spread of malaria and it is not an isolated incident.

Health officials are taking proactive measures, considering the upcoming Fourth of July holiday and the expectation of hotter and wetter weather in the coming months. The intention is to raise awareness and provide a comprehensive statewide notice to the residents of Florida.

It is worth noting that approximately 2,000 cases of malaria are diagnosed in the United States annually, with the majority being travelers from countries where malaria is endemic.

Since 1992, there have been 11 outbreaks of mosquito-borne malaria in the US, with the most recent occurring in 2003 in Palm Beach County, Florida, where eight cases were reported.


Reporting by Frisaro, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about malaria spread

What prompted the issuance of a statewide health advisory in Florida?

The issuance of a statewide health advisory in Florida was prompted by the emergence of four locally acquired cases of malaria along the Gulf Coast, marking the first spread of malaria in the United States in 20 years.

What are the symptoms of malaria?

Malaria presents symptoms such as fever, chills, sweats, nausea and vomiting, and headaches. It is caused by a parasite transmitted through bites from Anopheles mosquitoes.

How is malaria transmitted?

Malaria is not spread directly from person to person. It is transmitted through the bites of infected Anopheles mosquitoes.

What precautions are residents taking against mosquitoes?

Residents in affected areas are taking precautions such as using bug repellent and avoiding outdoor activities during times when mosquitoes are most active, particularly in the evenings. These measures aim to minimize exposure to mosquitoes.

How are officials controlling the mosquito population?

Officials are intensifying efforts to control the mosquito population by employing tactics such as using helicopters for mosquito control activities. They aim to eliminate adult mosquitoes before they have the opportunity to transmit the disease to individuals.

How long will the mosquito control activities continue?

The mosquito control activities will continue until the public health alert is lifted, typically around 14 days. This timeframe aligns with the incubation period of the parasite within mosquitoes and ensures effective control measures are in place.

Are there any previous instances of local malaria transmission in the United States?

Since 1992, there have been a total of 11 outbreaks of mosquito-borne malaria in the United States. The most recent one occurred in 2003 in Palm Beach County, Florida, where eight cases were reported.

How many cases of malaria are diagnosed in the United States annually?

Approximately 2,000 cases of malaria are diagnosed in the United States each year, with the majority of cases being among travelers coming from countries where malaria is endemic.

What is the significance of this local spread of malaria?

The local spread of malaria after a 20-year gap raises concerns about the potential for further transmission and highlights the importance of public health measures, mosquito control, and public awareness to prevent the spread of the disease.

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