Arkansas Faces First Local Malaria Case in Four Decades

Arkansas reported its first locally acquired case of malaria in over 40 years. This alarming incident underscores the growing concern that the disease, once eradicated in the United States, may be making an unwelcome comeback.

The patient, whose identity remains undisclosed, resides in Saline County, Arkansas. Notably, the individual had not traveled outside the country recently, indicating that the infection was contracted locally.

This makes Arkansas the fourth state this year to report a locally acquired case of malaria, following Florida, Texas, and Maryland.

This recent case is the tenth instance of malaria infection on U.S. soil this year. The first case was detected in May, marking a worrying trend that suggests the disease may be gaining a foothold in the U.S. for the first time in two decades.

Dr. Naveen Patil, the deputy health officer for Arkansas, confirmed that this is the first local case of malaria detected in the state since at least 1980. He expressed his concern, stating it’s been around 30 to 40 years since they’ve tracked a case of locally acquired malaria in Arkansas.

While Arkansas has reported five other cases of malaria this year, each of those was linked to travel outside of the country. This new case, however, is different. It’s a locally acquired infection, which means the disease was transmitted within the state, likely through a mosquito bite.

In response to this alarming development, the local health department has initiated efforts to capture and test local mosquitoes to determine the source of the infection. They are also likely to carry out pesticide spraying in areas where mosquitoes carrying malaria have been identified.

Malaria is not a disease that can be spread from person to person. Instead, mosquitoes become infected when they bite a malaria patient and then spread the disease when they bite another human.

The last time malaria was transmitted locally in the U.S. was in 2003, during an outbreak in Florida that resulted in eight infections.

The resurgence of malaria cases in the U.S. is a cause for concern. Earlier this year, Florida detected seven locally acquired cases in Sarasota County.

In Texas, a 21-year-old guard working along the state’s border with Mexico contracted the disease. A case was also diagnosed in Maryland in a resident who lives in the National Capital Region of the state next to Washington D.C.

Malaria was eradicated in the U.S. in the 1950s, but experts fear the disease could make a comeback due to international travel. They warn malaria-ridden mosquitoes could hitch a ride to the U.S. on boats or planes or patients who become infected abroad could bring the disease into the country.