San Antonio – A Texas man is one of five cases in the U.S. who contracted malaria locally, which means the mosquitos carrying the parasite are in the country for the first time in 20 years.
Doctor Jason Bowling, professor of infectious diseases at UT Health San Antonio, said the community’s overall risk is very low. However, he wants to ensure residents and medical staff are alert and ask the right questions to detect the virus before it becomes deadly.
“When people get malaria, sometimes they can have very mild symptoms, and they’re pretty nonspecific, too. If you just have some mild fever and chills, nausea, vomiting that goes away, it may not raise up to the level where people are going to be thinking, is it something more significant,” Bowling explained.
Ian Cheeseman at Texas Biomedical Research Institute, an associate professor and program lead of host pathogens interactions, said South Texas has the perfect conditions for malaria-carrying mosquitoes to spread the parasite. He said, however, “There is no reason to panic seeing malaria in Texas.”
Cheeseman has been working to understand the genetics and transmission of malaria for 15 years.
“In the last few months in San Antonio, we’ve experienced, first of all, a very, very wet period and then a very hot period. And these are sort of the conditions we think mosquitoes are going to be thriving in,” he said.
Cheeseman said climate change has likely impacted the spread of the parasite. His work will help ensure that the medicine used to treat malaria changes along with the virus’ mutation.
“One of the major issues we’re dealing with in malaria right now is the emergence and spread of drug resistance,” he said.
Health experts encourage people to take precautions to prevent mosquito bites and closely monitor symptoms following any bites.