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Malaria is popping up in the U.S. for the first time in years, but Oklahoma Department of Health says risk is low in state

An <em>Anopheles gambiae</em> mosquito feasts on a human.
Jim Gathany
An Anopheles gambiae mosquito feasts on a human.

After 20 years without a reported local case, malaria is spreading again in the United States. Four people in Florida and one in Texas caught the disease locally, according to the CDC.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health says warmer areas of the country like Florida and Texas are more at risk because mosquitoes can survive there year-round. OSDH says no cases of malaria have been reported in Oklahoma, and the risk of contracting malaria here is low.

However, scientists saymalaria will become more common as the world warms due to human-caused climate change.

Here's OSDH’s full statement:

"The Anopheles mosquito, which can carry malaria, is common in many regions of the U.S., including Oklahoma. However, there are areas of the country where this mosquito is found that pose a higher risk for individuals to contract the disease, due to the local climate allowing the mosquito to survive most of the year and a higher concentration of travelers to malaria endemic countries.

At this time, we want to stress that there have been no locally acquired cases of the disease, and the risk of an individual contracting malaria in the state is low.

Malaria is a reportable disease in Oklahoma, so if there were to be a case, the OSDH would be notified. After notification, we would follow-up with the individual, work to do active human case surveillance and conduct mosquito surveillance and control in the specific area.

If an individual becomes ill after traveling or after being bitten by a mosquito, we would encourage them to contact a healthcare provider and seek medical attention for possible testing, treatment and care.

We want to remind Oklahomans there are other infections that can be spread by mosquitos that are common in Oklahoma and travel destinations, like West Nile Virus.

To prevent mosquito-borne illness, individuals should consider wearing mosquito repellant with DEET, wear clothing that covers areas where someone could be bitten, like arms and legs, avoid being outside at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active, and drain any standing water around your house.

If someone has traveled to an area where malaria occurs and develops fever, muscle aches, chills, headache and fatigue, seek medical attention and notify your healthcare provider of your travel."

- Erica Rankin, public information officer for OSDH

Before joining Public Radio Tulsa, Elizabeth Caldwell was a freelance reporter and a teacher
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