5 people contract malaria within U.S. borders — first such cases in two decades

THE WASHINGTON POST – For the first time in two decades, malaria infections have been confirmed in people who did not travel outside the United States, leading federal health authorities to warn about the potential for transmission of the mosquito-born disease within the nation’s borders.

Four people in Sarasota County, Fla., and one in Cameron County, Tex., were confirmed as having been infected between late May and late June through local transmission. [Both counties include large numbers of illegal alients. Cameron Co. is on the Mexico border and includes the cities of Brownsville and Harlingen.]

All have gotten treatment and are recovering as health officials watch for additional cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Although the potentially fatal disease was once endemic, it was declared eliminated in the United States in 1951.

About 2,000 people are diagnosed with malaria in the nation each year, but those cases have involved trips abroad. For a handful who came down with the disease in recent months, that was not the case.

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The risk of getting malaria in the United States “remains extremely low,” the CDC said.

Still, experts said Americans should be aware of the possibility and take steps to prevent mosquito bites.

“It’s not panic time,” said Brian Grimberg, an associate professor of pathology and international health at Case Western Reserve University. “I think the message is to be aware. I mean, Americans never think about malaria unless they travel abroad.”

Malaria is a serious disease with symptoms including fevers, headaches, chills and flu-like illness. Around the globe, more than 240 million infections happen each year — 95 percent of them in African countries …

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