September 22, 2023

What parents need to know about malaria – and how to protect children during outbreaks in the US

What parents should know about malaria

The US recently had its first local cases of malaria in decades. Here’s what parents should know about the disease. (Design: Quinn Lemmers for Yahoo; Photo: Getty Images)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a health advisory after five cases of malaria were detected in two states. The cases, identified in Florida and Texas, were acquired locally – meaning patients contracted malaria in the US and not by traveling to areas where malaria is widespread.

The disease was once widespread in the US, but was considered eradicated in 1951 after the use of insecticides and antimalarial treatments became common. The CDC now says there is “concern about a possible increase” in malaria cases and urges health care providers to plan for “rapid access” to IV forms of artesunate, which is considered the first-line treatment for severe malaria in the U.S. .

The CDC notes that all malaria patients who were recently diagnosed have received treatment for the disease and are getting better. “Locally acquired malaria from mosquitoes has not occurred in the United States since 2003, when eight cases of locally acquired malaria P. vivax malaria was diagnosed in Palm Beach County, Florida,” the agency said.

While the CDC says the risk of locally contracted malaria is still extremely low in the U.S., it notes that the risk is higher in areas where conditions allow Anopheles mosquito (which spreads the disease) to survive most or all of the year.

“Right now, there are very few cases in the United States, but it’s very possible that this number will increase,” says Dr. Keri Cohn, director of global health for the department of emergency medicine and attending physician at the Center for Global Health at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, tells Yahoo Life. “Malaria can cause a very serious illness in both children and adults.”

If you have children in areas where mosquitoes are common, it is understandable that you have questions about malaria. Here’s what you need to know.

What is Malaria?

Malaria is a serious and potentially fatal disease caused by a parasite, according to the CDC. The parasite usually infects a certain type of mosquito that feeds on humans and transmits the disease. However, it is not usually passed from person to person (although there have been cases where a mother passed it on to a fetus during pregnancy), Dr. Thomas Russo, professor and chief of infectious diseases at the University at Buffalo in New York. Yahoo life.

Each year, more than 240 million cases of malaria occur worldwide — and 95% of them are in Africa, according to the CDC. Nearly all cases of malaria in the US are brought to the country from other parts of the world.

Babies, children under the age of five, pregnant women, travelers and people with HIV or AIDS are at greater risk of serious infection, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Signs of malaria

“Symptoms of malaria are largely non-specific,” says Russo. This means they can be difficult to distinguish from those of other diseases without a proper diagnosis. Here are the most common symptoms of the disease, the CDC says:

  • fever

  • chills

  • headache

  • muscle aches and pains

  • fatigue

  • nausea

  • vomit

  • diarrhea

These are more serious symptoms of malaria, according to the WHO:

Symptoms usually begin anywhere from 10 days to four weeks after someone is infected, but a patient can feel sick between a week and a year after becoming infected, the CDC says.

How can you distinguish malaria from common diseases?

A condition that causes a fever along with a headache and muscle aches is much like COVID-19 or the flu. But there are a few important differences. “Malaria doesn’t cause respiratory-type illnesses like COVID-19 or the flu,” Dr. Ian Michelow, division chief of pediatric infectious diseases and immunology at Connecticut Children’s Specialty Group, told Yahoo Life. “It doesn’t look like a cough or a cold and usually doesn’t cause nasal congestion or runny nose in the early stages.”

If your child looks like a cold, Michelow says it’s probably a respiratory virus — not malaria. “The most important thing with malaria is a fever that is unexplained by anything else you would expect in a child of this age,” he says.

Even if your child has an unexplained fever, it’s probably not due to malaria at this point, Russo says. “But the general rule is to be judged when in doubt,” he says.

And if your pediatrician suspects your child has malaria, Russo adds, they may request a blood test.

How is malaria treated?

“We have very good treatments for malaria,” says Cohn. “The risk is delayed diagnosis where children could get sicker if not diagnosed and treated quickly.”

In the US, the disease is treated with prescription drugs, although the CDC says the type of drugs and length of treatment depend on the type of malaria, where the person is infected, their age, whether they’re pregnant and how sick they are. when they start treatment.

The most common antimalarials are chloroquine phosphate and artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT), according to the Mayo Clinic. However, other medications are available if needed. “Treatment is very effective,” says Michelow. “You can eradicate it and it won’t come back if you treat it right.”

How to protect children from malaria

The best way to protect children from malaria is to do your best to avoid mosquito bites, says Michelow. “Deet is safe and approved for use in children older than 2 months,” he says. Michelow recommends keeping mosquito repellent away from children’s faces and hands. “Children put their fingers in their mouths,” he emphasizes.

Michelow also suggests looking for a repellent with a low concentration of Deet and only applying it once a day. “Keep in mind that the low percentage of Deet only lasts for a few hours, unlike those with higher concentrations of 25% to 30%,” he says. “You still have to be careful to avoid exposure to mosquitoes.”

If you’d rather not use Deet, Michelow says picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus can also be helpful. Russo also recommends not being outside during times when mosquitoes are known to be active,
which is usually dusk and dawn. And if it’s not too hot, he says it’s worth considering covering your child’s arms and legs when you go outside.

But doctors emphasize that parents should not worry about malaria now. “I’m not too worried, and I don’t think parents need to worry too much about this,” says Michelow. “This is something that the U.S. health care system can handle quite well.”

Russo agrees. “The risk is low, but not zero,” he says.

Still, Michelow says it’s important for parents to be aware that malaria can be a threat. “Knowledge is power,” he says. “If there is an unexplained fever in a child in an area where malaria has been reported, you can ask your doctor to test them.”

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