By Robert Preidt
THURSDAY, Oct. 31 (HealthDay News) -- Malaria cases in the United States hit a 40-year high in 2011, federal health officials reported Thursday.
There were 1,925 cases of malaria that year, the highest number since 1971. That represents a 14 percent increase from 2010 to 2011.
Five people died from malaria or associated complications in 2011, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.
Nearly 70 percent of the cases were imported from countries in Africa, and nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of those cases were acquired in West Africa. For the first time, India was the country from which the most cases were imported, CDC officials said.
"Malaria isn't something many doctors see frequently in the United States, thanks to successful malaria elimination efforts in the 1940s," CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden said in an agency news release. "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."
Malaria is caused by a parasite transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitoes. There were about 219 million cases of malaria worldwide in 2010 and about 660,000 deaths from the disease.
Common symptoms of the disease include fever, headache, back pain, chills, increased sweating, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and cough. Untreated infections can quickly lead to coma, kidney failure, respiratory problems, and death, the CDC said.
"Malaria is preventable. In most cases, these illnesses and deaths could have been avoided by taking recommended precautions," Dr. Laurence Slutsker, director of CDC's division of parasitic diseases and malaria, said in the news release.
Americans who travel to regions where malaria is present can protect themselves by taking antimalarial drugs and by using insect repellant, insecticide-treated bed nets, and protective clothing.
"We have made great strides in preventing and controlling malaria around the world. However, malaria persists in many areas and the use of appropriate prevention measures by travelers is still very important," Slutsker said.
The findings were published in the Nov. 1 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.