If you are planning a trip abroad this summer, it might be a good idea to grab your mosquito spray because a new report suggests the mosquito-bourne illness malaria is on the rise in the U.S.
According to the report published April 24 in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, although endemic malaria was effectively wiped out in the United States in the 1950s, more than 2,000 people in the U.S. return from visits abroad with malaria every year.
The study’s lead researcher, Diana Khuu, an epidemiologist at the Fielding School of Public Health at the University of California, Los Angeles, told LiveScience that it is important that everyone take preventative measures to avoid contracting malaria.
“We need to encourage travelers to seek pre-travel advice and to use personal protective measures against mosquitoes and anti-malarial medications when they travel to malarious countries because a lot of people are not using these preventive measures, it’s resulting in a lot of hospitalizations and in half a billion dollars in hospital charges from 2000 to 2014. Malaria, in the world right now, is still the leading cause of death by parasitic disease.”
The authors used data from the National Inpatient Sample and found that between 2000 and 2014, some 22,029 malaria-related hospitalizations were reported. Of those, 4823 were classified as severe malaria cases, with 182 deaths. According to the data, hospitalizations occurred more often in the Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic states.
Of those infected with malaria, men accounted for 60 percent of the hospitalizations for malaria.
Of women infected, 14 percent were pregnant. This is particularly concerning, notes MedScape, because malaria in a pregnant woman can lead to maternal anemia, death of the mother or fetus, low birth weight, and delayed intrauterine growth.
The report supports data collected for the Centers For Disease Control’s malaria surveillance system, which comes from reports by medical practitioners that are required by law to notify the CDC of malaria cases. In the 1970s, estimates had the number of cases in the low 100s. Since then, the number of cases has risen to nearly 2,000.
Malaria is a disease caused by a parasite that commonly infects a certain type of mosquito. When the mosquito feeds on humans, the disease can be transmitted. Symptoms of the disease are high fevers, shaking chills and flu-like symptoms, according to the CDC.
The agency noted that the vast majority of malaria cases in the United States occur in people who have traveled abroad.
Dr. Paul Arguin, chief of the domestic response unit in the CDC’s malaria branch, told LiveScience malaria is preventable.
“If you are going to be traveling to a country where malaria is endemic, there are definite steps you can take to prevent.”
Arquin recommends that anyone planning a trip should check the CDC’s website to see if the country they plan to visit has malaria. If so, a trip to the doctor is recommended to get a prescription for antimalarial drugs.
“The high proportion of hospitalizations coming from the ER indicates that malaria can cause severe disease very rapidly, and many people with malaria may be delaying their seeking of medical attention.”
According to the CDC, the highest transmission of malaria is found in Africa south of the Sahara and in parts of Oceania, such as Papua New Guinea.
The CDC also says that preventative measures against malaria differ in each country, so check the Malaria Information and Prophylaxis, by Country page on their website to truly be prepared for your trip.
Illness is not the only outcome of contracting malaria, the study notes. Khuu and her fellow researchers found that the treatment for malaria can be very expensive. On average, a hospitalization for malaria costs about $25,000. It can be even more expensive should the patient develop a permanent disability from malaria.
So be prepared before you travel because Malaria is risky business. You don’t want those pesky mosquitoes to do more than just give you an itchy bump.
[Featured Image by James Gathany/CDC]