The number of Americans who were infected with malaria in 2011 reached a 40-year high, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The 1,925 cases reported in 2011 represent a 14 percent increase over 2010 and is the highest reported number of infections since 1971. Doctors are warning patients to take proper precautions when traveling to regions with a high risk of malaria infection, since almost every reported case stemmed from overseas visits.
Malaria is caused by a parasite that spreads through the bite of certain types of infected mosquitoes that are most common in Africa, Asia, and South America. In 2010, approximately 660,000 people died of malaria worldwide out of 219 million reported cases. Symptoms of the disease are similar to a bad case of the flu, including high fever, headaches, shivering, joint pain, vomiting, and convulsions.
“Malaria isn’t something many doctors see frequently in the United States thanks to successful malaria elimination efforts in the 1940s,” said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden in a statement. “The increase in malaria cases reminds us that Americans remain vulnerable and must be vigilant against diseases like malaria because our world is so interconnected by travel.”
The easiest way to avoid infection is to be prepared when visiting a country that has high malaria rates, according to the CDC. That usually includes taking antimalarial drugs, using insect repellent, protective bed nets, and heavy protective clothing. The CDC has a country-by-country list of the drugs that are most effective in deterring various strains of malaria.