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Experts say there’s a ‘slim chance’ malaria cases spread to Utah

Jun 28, 2023, 6:17 PM | Updated: 6:37 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced five malaria cases in the U.S., but what does this mean for Utahns?

The CDC said the four cases in Flordia and the case in Texas is the first time in 20 years that the parasitic disease has entered the U.S.

Salt Lake City Abatement District’s Dr. Michele Rehbein told KSL TV that only three species of mosquitos out of the thousands that exist can carry malaria. The species does live in Utah; however, she said there aren’t very many of them.

“The anopheles mosquitos that we have here that are being collected locally are not transmitting malaria, so they don’t have it circulating in their wild population,” Rehbein said.

The specialists at the Abatement District said there’s a slim chance Utahns can get malaria because of where the infected mosquitos reside.

“The mosquitos that are infected would have to travel a really long distance in order to get here to Utah, and that’s not going to happen,” Rehbein explained.

But what if Utahns travel to malaria-infected places? That’s where the risk is, said Dr. Greg White, Ass. Director of Salt Lake City Abatement District.

“Malaria is pretty widespread through the tropics of the world, so they have it in Africa, they have it in Asia, they have it in South America,” White said.

White said if a Utahn would travel to any of those places, that’s where the main risk would be.

“Before you go over there, they’ll give you the right medications that you need to take to both prevent and stop any infection like malaria,” he said.

However, it’s still concerning that cases are emerging in the U.S. after so many years, White said.

“Malaria was a big part of the U.S. from its founding up until the 1950s when we got it under control, and in Africa, it’s still a major problem,” White explained.

Utah scientists work in Africa to reduce malaria

The district doesn’t test for malaria, but they have methods of tracking the species’ locations.

“We can pinpoint in case we need to do any type of preventive measures,” Rehbein expressed. “There’s no need to panic.”

“I don’t think malaria is going to be a problem here in Utah,” White added.

As for the mosquitos in 2023, the district said they are getting more nuisance calls this year compared to last. They report the mosquito populations are slightly worse and remind everyone to get rid of any standing water to keep them away.

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Experts say there’s a ‘slim chance’ malaria cases spread to Utah