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Arkansas Department of Health investigating locally-acquired malaria case

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James Gathany
A female mosquito is seen in this file photo.

An investigation is ongoing after the first locally-acquired case of malaria was reported in Arkansas last week.

The Arkansas Department of Health says a resident of Saline County contracted the disease from an infected mosquito, but has since been released from the hospital. Malaria is potentially fatal, and can cause chills, fever and sweating typically a few weeks after being bitten.

Dr. Naveen Patil is deputy state health officer and medical director of infectious diseases at the Health Department. He says they’ve been testing mosquitoes for the malaria parasite.

We are also working with hospitals and medical providers to figure out what testing capabilities they have in case there is a suspected case, and what help they would need,” Patil said. “And also at the same time whether these institutions have medications available at their [disposal] in case we do find more cases.”

Patil says it’s hard to say whether more cases of the disease will arise in Arkansas, though cooler weather will help to curtail the mosquito population. He says it’s unlikely the disease will be widespread in the state.

“This is not something like COVID or measles where one case leads to another… it doesn’t happen like that, it doesn’t spread from person to person,” he said. “If someone has malaria, the other people in the household will not have malaria. It would be very unfortunate if they did, because it means there are several mosquitoes biting, or the same mosquito is biting several other people.”

Patil urges Arkansans to wear appropriate clothing outdoors, use bug spray and avoid stagnant water in order to limit exposure to mosquito bites. He says the Health Department is working with healthcare providers on testing and treatment for the disease.

Daniel Breen is News Director of Little Rock Public Radio.