As summer heats up in southwest Florida, it’s not just the temperature that’s on the rise. This summer has seen the arrival of an unwelcome visitor to the Sunshine State: malaria.
In late May, Sarasota County reported a case of locally acquired malaria in a resident. Malaria is a disease that is typically associated with tropical regions of the world. What made this case concerning is that the resident had not traveled outside of the country, which suggests they contracted the disease from local mosquitoes. This is the first time in 20 years that a locally acquired case of malaria has been reported in the United States.
Malaria is spread through the bite of an Anopheles mosquito, a disease which poses one of the world’s greatest public health challenges. Approximately 200 million people are infected each year and around half a million people die from malaria annually worldwide. Malaria cannot be transmitted from person to person.
In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, malaria was common throughout northern Florida. Recognizing the severity of the situation, local mosquito control programs and other government agencies undertook extensive public health efforts to eliminate malaria in the southern United States. They were successful, and in 1949, the United States was declared malaria free.
Since then, sporadic outbreaks of malaria have occurred in the United States, which were short lived due to efforts of mosquito control programs. The rich history of mosquito-borne disease in Florida, along with the current outbreak of malaria in Sarasota County, serve as important reminders that we must remain proactive in our efforts to control mosquitoes.
Since the first case was reported in Florida in May, the state of Texas also reported a local case of malaria, and additional cases have been found in Sarasota County.
While a few cases might not sound like cause for alarm, the Florida Department of Health issued a statewide mosquito borne illness advisory in June 2023. That means that residents and visitors alike need to be vigilant about protecting themselves from mosquitoes.
Southwest Florida in particular, is at a high risk for mosquito borne illness due to its warm and humid climate, which makes it an ideal breeding ground for disease carrying mosquitoes.
So what can you do to protect yourself? The most effective way to avoid a mosquito-borne disease is to prevent mosquito bites. Dress in long sleeves and pants when you can, use an EPA registered insect repellent, and avoid being outdoors at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active. Also, eliminate sources of standing water around your home, as this is where mosquitoes lay their eggs.
The Collier Mosquito Control District is currently monitoring populations of Anopheles mosquitoes within the district. We do this year-round as part of our normal operations and are prepared to respond to any imported or locally transmitted cases of malaria in Collier County.
Maintaining the highest standards for public health in our community requires teamwork. Thus, CMCD tests mosquitoes daily for the presence of disease, and we also remain in close contact with the Florida Department of Health.
While it’s never good news to hear about the spread of disease, the recent cases of malaria in Florida serve as a reminder of the importance of taking precautions to protect ourselves and our communities. By staying informed and taking steps to prevent mosquito bites, we can ensure that the only thing spreading in Collier County this summer is the sunshine.
Want to learn more about the CMCD’s operations and integrated mosquito management program? Visit our website at cmcd.org or call 239-436-1000.