Malaria in SA: here's what you need to know

By Jana Smit
09 March 2017

The occurrence of malaria this time of year is nothing strange and those cases that were reported in the past few weeks certainly don’t point to a sudden increase in malaria cases.

The occurrence of malaria this time of year is nothing strange and those cases that were reported in the past few weeks certainly don’t point to a sudden increase in malaria cases.

This was the assurance given by Professor Lucille Blumberg of the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) after the fifth malaria case in a month was recently reported.

The NICD has said in a statement that the death of a woman in Swartruggens, North West, bears no relation whatsoever to the two recent malaria-related deaths in Pretoria.

Read more: Malaria deaths in Pretoria: should you be worried?

A second malaria patient from Swartruggens is receiving treatment. Neither of the two Swartruggens patients had recently visited a malaria area.

Several cases of the illness have also been reported in Thabazimbi and Lephalale in Limpopo, mostly by people who live in the surrounding rural areas.

“These areas have historically been known for the occurrence of malaria in favourable [for the spreading of the parasite] years and therefore it [the recent occurrence of malaria] isn’t entirely unusual,” the statement says.

“Though rare, a number of cases of ‘imported’ malaria are reported every year and these occur along with the seasonal increase in malaria cases between January and April. This [the recently reported cases] doesn’t mean the size of malaria areas is increasing.”

Read more: This is why mosquitoes bite you

If diagnosed in the early stages of the diseases, malaria can be treated very effectively. But often diagnosis occurs too late because the symptoms are non-specific or because the patient hadn’t recently visited a malaria area.

The NICD is urging healthcare practitioners to be vigilant about malaria in all patients who have an inexplicably high fever (more than 38 °C) and flu-like symptoms, even if they hadn’t travelled recently.

People living in or visiting malaria areas must seek immediate medical attention and have themselves tested for malaria if they develop flu-like symptoms and fever.

The population of Culicinae mosquitoes usually increases dramatically after heavy rainfall on the highveld – as has recently been the case. The subspecies Culicinae includes a variety of mosquito types – including the common house mosquito – but they never carry malaria.

After the recent heavy rains in the north of the country temperatures and humidity have risen. Subsequently, the occurrence of malaria – both in and out of malaria areas – has also risen. These areas include north-eastern Limpopo, the Lowveld-areas of Mpumalanga (excluding Mbombela), and the far north of KwaZulu-Natal and neighbouring Mozambique.

Malaria symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches, chills and sweating.

Professor Blumberg says if malaria is diagnosed within the first two days after symptoms start, it’s easily treated. She described the recent cases as unfortunate, but unusual. The NICD is investigating each individual case.

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