Return of malaria in the U.S. is costing millions, study claims

Malaria-related hospitalizations and deaths in the U.S. are far more common than expected, report researchers, despite transmission having been eliminated in the country back in the 1950s.

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The disease has made a comeback in U.S. hospitals, as travelers return home from regions where the mosquito-borne disease is still common, they say.

"It appears more and more Americans are traveling to areas where malaria is common and many of them are not taking preventive measures, such as using anti-malarial preventive medications and mosquito repellents, even though they are very effective at preventing infections," explains lead author and epidemiologist Diana Khuu (University of California, Los Angeles).

As reported in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, Khuu and team analyzed data on national hospital admissions between 2000 and 2014. Over this period, 22,000 individuals were hospitalized for malaria-related complications. Of those, 4,823 had severe malaria, which can lead to fatal conditions such as renal failure and acute respiratory depression and, of those, 182 died.

In addition, the hospitalization rate for malaria was significantly higher than for any other travel-related illness. Dengue fever, for example, resulted in an average of 259 hospitalizations per year, whereas malaria resulted in an average of 1,489 per year.

Furthermore, the problem generated U.S. healthcare costs of approximately half-a-billion dollars. The average cost per patient was about $25,800 and the cost of patient care overall was around $555 million.

The study also found that in 60% of cases, it was men who were hospitalized, which the team thinks may be because men are less inclined to seek medical advice before traveling or, if they do, are less inclined to follow the recommendations made.

President of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, Patricia Walker, says the findings serve as a reminder that “we live in an interconnected world.”

"For this reason, the U.S. must continue to invest in tropical medicine research efforts and programs, even for diseases like malaria that we don't think of as American diseases. To get the job done, we need a strong NIH a strong CDC, and commitment to military research," she advises.

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