Malaria is being reported in Florida. Everything you need to know from signs to prospects of a vaccine

The United States is currently seeing five cases of malaria spread by mosquitos within the past two months − the first time there has been a local spread in the past 20 years.

Four of the cases were identified in Southwest Florida and one in southern Texas, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Due to the unusual spread, Florida authorities are issuing a public health alert to warn doctors, public health authorities, and the public about the risk.

All four people in Sarasota County who were infected have been treated and have recovered. Here's what we know so far about the cases and disease:

Breaking news on malaria cases: Malaria cases in Texas and Florida are the first US spread in 20 years, CDC says

What is malaria?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Malaria is a disease transmitted through the bite of an infective female anopheline mosquito that can rapidly become very severe and life-threatening.

In Florida, malaria is transmitted through infected Anopheles mosquitoes
In Florida, malaria is transmitted through infected Anopheles mosquitoes

If not promptly treated, the infection can become severe and may cause kidney failure, seizures, mental confusion, coma, and death.

Where are the current cases of malaria in Florida?

Four cases were identified in Sarasota County, according to the CDC. The Florida Department of Health issued a statewide mosquito-borne illness advisory Monday.

Malaria in Sarasota. What to know: How did malaria get to Sarasota? Answers to questions you may have about the disease.

Has malaria spread to other states?

The CDC announced that a fifth case of the disease was found in southern Texas. This case and the four Florida cases do not appear to be related, according to officials.

How often is malaria seen in the United States?

The CDC highlights that the U.S. was once a malaria-endemic country, but malaria was declared eliminated in 1951 from the nation. Now approximately 1,500 malaria cases and five deaths are reported in the United States annually, typically in returned travelers.

When was the last local outbreak of malaria?

Rhoel Dinglasan, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine, told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that cases of locally acquired malaria are not common. The last outbreak of malaria cases in the country was in 2003 when Palm Beach County saw eight such cases.

What are the signs of malaria?

Malaria symptoms usually appear within 7 to 30 days but can take up to one year to develop. Symptoms of malaria include:

  • Fever and flu-like illness, including shaking chills, sweats, headache, muscle aches, and tiredness.

  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are possible.

  • Malaria may cause anemia and jaundice (yellow coloring of the skin and eyes).

Anyone with symptoms of fever, chills, sweats, nausea/vomiting, and headache should seek immediate medical attention, the Florida Health Department said

Is malaria contagious?

No. Malaria is not spread from person to person, and it cannot be sexually transmitted, according to the Centers for Disease Control. You cannot get malaria from casual contact with malaria-infected people.

Infected mothers can transmit parasites to their child during pregnancy before or during delivery.

While rare, transfusion-transmitted malaria does happen and when it does, it is a potentially severe complication in blood recipients. On average, only one case of transfusion-transmitted malaria occurs in the United States every two years, the CDC said.

What should I do if I recognize any signs of malaria?

The surest way to know whether you have malaria is to have a diagnostic test where a drop of blood is examined under the microscope for the presence of malaria parasites.

If you are sick and there is any suspicion of malaria, a test should be performed without delay, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Is there a malaria vaccine?

Attempts at producing an effective malaria vaccine and vaccine clinical trials are ongoing, the CDC said.

The malaria parasite is a complex organism with a complicated life cycle. The parasite has the ability to evade the body's immune system, making vaccine development difficult

If you get malaria, do you have it for the rest of your life?

Not necessarily. In general, if you are correctly treated for malaria, the parasites are eliminated and you are no longer infected with malaria.

However, the disease can continue if it is not treated or if it is treated with the wrong drug. Some drugs are not effective because the parasite is resistant to them. Some people with malaria may be treated with the right drug, but at the wrong dose or for too short a period of time, the CDC said.

Two types (species) of parasites, Plasmodium vivax and P. ovale, have liver stages and can remain in the body for years without causing sickness. If not treated, these liver stages may reactivate and cause malaria attacks months or years later.

People diagnosed with P. vivax or P. ovale are often given a second drug to help prevent relapses.

How can I protect myself against malaria?

The CDC recommends those traveling to other countries use these tips to avoid any interactions with mosquitos:

  • Use an EPA-registered insect repellent

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants

  • Treat clothing and gear with permethrin

  • Keep mosquitoes out of your hotel room or lodging

  • Sleep under a mosquito net

This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: Malaria found in Florida for first time in 20 years. What we know