Bahamas malaria outbreak causes concern

A case of malaria which has cropped up in the Bahamas has caused concern and raised many questions for health officials and has worried local residents.

Health officials are currently screening illegal immigrants for malaria after the outbreak of the potentially fatal disease was confirmed on the Exuma islands, a sandy chain of islands southeast of Nassau.

Malaria has not been endemic in the Bahamas and apart from what are termed "sporadic" cases by the health ministry, almost all cases have been imported into the country.

The Exuma islands harbour reclusive holiday retreats belonging to wealthy Europeans, Canadians and Americans and it was here that a dozen cases of the disease have been confirmed.

According to health officials three of the patients were Haitians, one was Uruguayan, and the rest were all believed to be Bahamians.

It is the first known occurrence of the disease in the Bahamas in recent times, the spectre could very well damage tourism for Exuma and the whole of the country and is a worrying time for the local population which depends heavily on income from tourism.

It is a particular concern because the malaria appears to be 'home grown' and the first victim did not contract the disease outside the country.

The Ministry of Health is concerned enough to take extra precautions to try and eradicate the rogue mosquito or mosquitoes with a special spraying programme planned for Exuma and the continued spraying of other areas of the country.

The spraying will be mostly done at night when mosquitoes are usually at their busiest.

The rainy season has just begun in the area and it is the most active time for mosquitoes. The Culex and the Aedes species of mosquito are the types usually found in the Bahamas and are unable to transmit malaria.

Malaria is the world's most important tropical parasitic disease and is a also a killer.

Dr. Merceline Dahl-Regis, the government's chief medical officer, has identified the strain of malaria on the Exumas as Plasmodium falciparum which is also known as "malignant" or "cerebral" malaria, and causes the most severe and potentially fatal symptoms in humans.

Malaria is caused by the parasite Plasmodium, which is usually transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito.

The Ministry of Health said that, because malaria is endemic to Haiti, teams have been screening areas in the Bahamas where Haitians live.

The Minister of Health, Dr Bernard Nottage says "extensive fogging" will be carried out near the airport at Exuma, around all natural ponds and other areas where there are large collections of water.

Officials have also been screening immigrants held at Nassau's Carmichael Road detention center for the disease, since it holds many Haitian deportees awaiting repatriation.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is advising Americans to take anti-malaria drugs as a preventative measure if traveling to the Exuma islands but is not issuing a travel alert for the entire Bahamas chain of islands.

Of the dozen people stricken, five were taken to Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau and have already been discharged after responding well to chloroquine treatment.

Despite these measures however, it is an anxious time as figures show around 300 million people worldwide are affected by the disease and an unbelievable 1 to 1.5 million people die from it each year.

Malaria has in the main been confined to Africa, Asia and Latin America and these countries have problems controlling malaria, undoubtedly aggravated by inadequate health structures and poor socioeconomic conditions.

The situation has been further complicated by an increase in resistance to the drugs normally used to combat the parasite that causes the disease and it will take time to tell if that is the case in the Bahamas.

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