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State Officials Urge Caution Against Malaria

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Author name: Lee Health

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Malaria graphic

“Drain and cover.” These precautionary actions will help limit your exposure to mosquito-borne illnesses, state health officials say.

The watchwords appeared in a Florida Department of Health (FDOH) health advisory issued last month in response to four malaria cases diagnosed in Sarasota County. The cases were joined by another one diagnosed in Texas.

All cases were local transmissions, meaning the people were exposed and bitten locally. Each person has received treatment and recovered from the potentially fatal disease.

The last time an outbreak of locally acquired cases occurred was in 2003 when eight people were diagnosed in Palm Beach County. Most cases in our country happen in travelers and immigrants returning from countries where malaria infection rates are high, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 95 percent of malaria infections are acquired in Africa.

In the United States, around 2,000 cases of malaria are diagnosed each year.  

Meanwhile, Florida and Texas Department of Health officials continue to work with local health departments to conduct ongoing surveillance for additional cases and mosquito surveillance and control.

What causes malaria?

Malaria is caused by a parasite that commonly infects a certain type of mosquito that feeds on humans. People who get malaria typically develop high fevers, shaking chills, and flu-like illnesses. You can’t get malaria from casual contact with people infected with malaria, such as sitting next to someone who has malaria.

How is malaria detected and treated?

A diagnostic test is the best way for you and your primary care doctor to know whether you have malaria. A drop of your blood is examined under the microscope to see if malaria parasites are present. If you’re sick and there’s any suspicion of malaria (for example, if you have recently traveled in a country where malaria transmission occurs), the test should be done right away.

Many effective antimalarial drugs are available. You and your doctor will decide on the best drug for you, if any, based on your travel plans, medical history, age, drug allergies, pregnancy status, and other factors.

Stay cautious

Despite the recent cases in Sarasota County, FDOH officials report the risk of locally acquired malaria remains extremely low in the United States. So while you shouldn’t be alarmed, you should be cautious.

That’s why you should “drain and cover” to protect yourself throughout the July Fourth weekend and the rest of summer.

What is drain and cover?

DRAIN standing water to stop mosquitoes from multiplying.

  • Drain water from garbage cans, house gutters, buckets, pool covers, coolers, toys, flower pots or any other containers where sprinkler or rainwater has collected.
  • Discard old tires, drums, bottles, cans, pots and pans, broken appliances and other items that aren't being used.
  • Empty and clean birdbaths and pet water bowls at least once or twice a week.
  • Protect boats and vehicles from rain with tarps that don’t accumulate water.
  • Maintain swimming pools in good condition and appropriately chlorinated. Empty plastic swimming pools when not in use.

COVER skin with clothing or repellent.

  • Clothing - Wear shoes, socks, long pants and long sleeves. This type of protection may be necessary for people who must work in areas where mosquitoes are present.
  • Repellent - Apply mosquito repellent to bare skin and clothing.
  • Always use repellents according to the label. Repellents with DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol, 2-undecanone and IR3535 are effective.
  • For more information on what repellent is right for you, consider using the Environmental Protection Agency’s search tool to help choose skin-applied repellent products.
  • Use mosquito netting to protect children younger than two months old.

COVER doors and windows with screens to keep mosquitoes out of your house.

  • Repair broken screening on windows, doors, porches, and patios.

Source: Florida Department of Health - Collier County

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