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Malaria cases in the US reach a 40-year high, new data shows

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mosquito malaria (wikimedia)
mosquito malaria (wikimedia)

Malaria has been nearly obliterated in the United States — but rates of the deadly tropical illness recently saw a striking rise stateside, according to new data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In a report issued today, the agency noted that malaria cases in the US jumped 14 percent between 2010 and 2011, the most recent year for which comprehensive tallies are available. That figure is still relatively small, at 1,925 reported cases, but it's the highest number of malaria cases in any given year since 1971. And of those cases, five were fatal.

"What we're hoping is that more people will take precautions."

When malaria does crop up in the US, it's largely because of travel. American residents who visit countries where malaria remains endemic, such as India and Nigeria, become infected while overseas and only receive a diagnosis upon their return. "As we've seen, international travel continues to rise, including to malaria-striken countries," Paul Arguin, chief of the domestic malaria unit at the CDC, told The Verge. "What we're hoping is that more people will take precautions."

Malaria is the result of a parasite carried by mosquitos, and the fight to contain the illness remains an uphill battle: malaria kills an estimated 650,000 people each year, which 90 percent of those fatalities occurring in Africa. The World Health Organization recently warned that insecticide resistance threatened to curtail malaria control campaigns. Though antimalarial drugs can help prevent the illness, the search for a malaria vaccine continues: one recently completed clinical trial in Africa, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, was modestly successful in thwarting the illness among young children over an 18-month period.

Russell Brandom contributed to this story.