U.S. sees record number of malaria cases

By Laura Mize • Published: February 12th, 2014
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

When the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was founded in 1946, one of its goals was to eradicate malaria in the United States. Thanks to previous efforts and a partnership with state and local health departments, reaching that goal took only five years.

Fast forward several decades, and we have a curious problem on our hands. In 2011, the U.S. had the most malaria cases it’s had since 1971: 1,925, according to a recent C-D-C report. To put things in perspective, that’s an increase of 14 percent over the previous year.

What’s going on here? International travel, for one thing. The C-D-C reports that most of the people who came down with the disease acquired it on a trip to Africa, but some cases came from other regions.

Traveling to an area where malaria is prevalent doesn’t mean you’re doomed to get the disease. In fact, malaria is quite preventable if you follow your doctor’s instructions. Your doctor can prescribe you medication to protect you from the parasite that infects the blood and causes malaria. You’ll need to start taking the drug before your trip and continue taking it faithfully while you are gone and after you return. Taking the medication exactly as prescribed is key. Only a small percentage of the people who became ill in 2011 reported properly using malaria-preventing drugs.

In addition to taking preventive medications, there are steps you can take to protect yourself from mosquitoes, which transmit malaria and other serious diseases. Experts recommend wearing clothing that doesn’t leave much skin exposed, putting mosquito netting over your bed, spraying insecticide on the walls inside your dwelling and using insect repellant on skin and clothes.

Take these steps to avoid malaria and the red, itchy welts mosquitoes leave. These precautions will leave you free of bug bites and the diseases that follow.