Malaria: Causes, symptoms & prevention

Mosquitoes are still out there biting, and in some cases spreading diseases — including one that hasn’t spread in the U.S. in 20 years but has been found in Florida and two other states.

Malaria was virtually wiped out in the U.S. in the 1950s, but this summer the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced nine cases of “locally acquired malaria.” That means the people infected had not traveled to areas where malaria is common.

“The most likely scenario is that a person who is traveling in a foreign country was infected with malaria and came back to the United States and was bitten by a mosquito here and that mosquito then went on to bite somebody else transmitting malaria on,” explained Consumer Reports Health Editor Catherine Roberts.

At least seven people in Florida, two in Texas, and one person in Maryland tested positive for what is believed to be locally acquired malaria.

“The other more worrisome scenario – although the slightly less likely one — is that the U.S. may have a previously undetected new strain of malaria-infected mosquitoes,” said Roberts.

The most common symptoms are flu-like and include fever, shaking chills, sweats, headache, body aches, nausea, and vomiting, and typically start seven to 30 days after infection.

While it’s always been the case that malaria could become reestablished in the U.S. because the mosquitoes that transmit it are common here, the question is: why now?

“Factors like a warming climate and increasing global travel can make the environment friendlier to mosquitoes and the diseases they carry. Still, public health measures have had a good track record of stopping malaria transmission in the U.S.,” Roberts explained.

Despite these new cases, the risk of locally acquired malaria in the U.S. is extremely low, while other mosquito-borne infections like West Nile are far more common and can be dangerous.

“Your best bet is to prevent mosquito bites before they happen. And always use a safe, effective insect repellent,” Roberts said.

Consumer Reports’ tests show the most effective repellents include those that contain 25 to 30 percent deet — like 3M Ultrathon Insect Repellent8 and Ben’s Tick and Insect Repellent Wilderness Formula Pump.

CONSUMER REPORTS: Top-rated repellents

It’s also important to keep mosquitoes away from your yard. Keep your space free of containers filled with water, and keep your lawn mowed and free of leaves and other debris.

You’ll lessen your risk of getting bitten when you avoid going outside at prime feeding times: That’s dawn and dusk. You can also use an oscillating fan — that goes back and forth — to create air movement to keep pesky, biting bugs away in the immediate area.

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