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Seek medical attention immediately if you are experiencing symptoms of malaria such as fever, chills, sweats, nausea, vomiting and headache.

The Florida Department of Health issued a statewide mosquito-borne illness advisory after six cases of malaria were reported in Sarasota County. These are the first locally acquired cases of malaria in the United States in 20 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Malaria is spread through infected Anopheles mosquitoes, not through personal contact. Floridians can protect themselves by using bug spray, avoiding areas with high mosquito populations and wearing long pants and long-sleeve shirts, especially at night when mosquitoes are most active.

The same advice holds true for cancer patients and survivors.

“The risk of acquiring malaria here in Florida is extremely low,” said Dr. John Greene, chair of the Infectious Diseases Department at Moffitt Cancer Center. “Fortunately, cancer patients and the general population can proactively protect themselves.”

The risk of acquiring malaria here in Florida is extremely low.
Dr. John Greene, Chair, Infectious Diseases Department

The mosquitoes that transmit malaria bite late at night, between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., so try to stay indoors from dusk until dawn. They’re most often found in rural areas. If you’ll be outside at night, wear long-sleeve clothes, socks and shoes, and use insect repellent to protect the skin.

Most insect repellents for the skin must be registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency before they can be sold in stores. Be sure to check labels for EPA approval before buying.

Insect Repellents

  • For hours of long-lasting protection, look for insect repellents with DEET, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus and picaridin (KBR 3023).
  • Always follow directions on the label.
  • Spray or rub the insect repellent onto your skin that is not covered by clothes. Do not use under clothing.
  • Use just enough insect repellent to cover your skin not covered by clothing. Heavy use of insect repellent is not necessary.
  • Never use insect repellent on cuts, wounds or irritated skin.
  • Do not spray insect repellent on your face. Spray it onto your hands and then pat the insect repellent onto your face.
  • Do not spray on your eyes or mouth, and apply a little around your ears.
  • Use separate sunscreens and insect repellents. Put the sunscreen on first, then spray on the insect repellent.
  • After returning indoors, wash the insect repellent off your skin with soap and water. This is important when you use insect repellents daily.
  • Wash clothes treated with insect repellent before wearing them again.
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women can use EPA-approved insect repellents.
  • Do not put insect repellent on babies younger than 2 months. Instead protect them by placing a fitted mosquito net around their infant seat or carrier.
  • Always spray insect repellents in open areas and wash your hands with soap and water.

“Repellents with DEET are best for all adults and none are considered harmful to cancer patients,” Greene said.

The local cases of malaria are caused by the Plasmodium vivax malaria parasite, which is not as deadly as other species. The health department says all six individuals with malaria have been treated and have recovered.

If you are experiencing symptoms of malaria — including fever, chills, sweats, nausea, vomiting and headache — seek medical attention immediately.