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FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. - With no new malaria cases in the past month, health officials have declared the end of one of the longest and most baffling U.S. outbreaks of the disease in the past 50 years.
It's unlikely there will be any more cases from the outbreak that infected eight people in central Palm Beach County, health officials said. The reasons for their optimism:
The lifespan of the anopheles mosquito that carries malaria is about 30 days, and the original disease-spreading mosquito is long dead. No one has reported symptoms of the disease since mid-September.
A dry October also has kept mosquito counts low, officials said.
Still, health experts don't want the public to let down its guard.
The alert continues for West Nile virus, St. Louis encephalitis and Eastern Equine encephalitis until health officials see a significant drop in cases of mosquito-borne diseases.
Right now, all indications are that we have controlled and contained this particular outbreak,'' Dr. Jean Malecki, director of the Palm Beach County Health Department, said.But at the same time, it's very, very prudent to protect yourself.''
No human in Palm Beach County has been infected with West Nile, although there have been five cases in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. More than 60 sentinel chickens from Delray Beach to Jupiter and Belle Glade have been confirmed to be carrying West Nile this year.
``We still have a risk for West Nile, and people still need to take the same precaution,'' Malecki said, adding that she was relieved to signal the end of the malaria outbreak that began in July.
To protect against mosquito bites, the Health Department still suggests wearing clothing that covers skin, using repellants containing DEET, reducing areas of standing water and making sure screens completely seal doors and windows.
Although malaria no longer is a top concern for the public, doctors and health-care workers still will be watching for symptoms - fevers higher than 101 degrees, headache, loss of appetite, vomiting and teeth-chattering chills - until Nov. 15. Symptoms of West Nile are similar, yet sometimes more mild, Health Department spokesman Tim O'Connor said.
Malecki said doctors should take an important lesson from this latest and unsolved malaria outbreak: Diseases considered obsolete in the United States are not always so. She cautioned that the disease could resurface through another source and mosquito.
Spraying for mosquitoes will continue across the county, although it will be cut back in the suburban Lake Worth neighborhoods where the disease was centered, Malecki said.
Ed Bradford, director of county Mosquito Control, said the mosquito count is below 100 in traps his department sets west of Boca Raton, Loxahatchee and Jupiter, where it usually is 200 to 1,000 mosquitoes or more. The insects usually flourish in October because of the typically heavy rainfalls.
In the Belle Glade area, the mosquito count is down to about 200 to 300 in the department's traps. It is usually between 4,000 to 5,000 at this time, Bradford said.
(c) 2003 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.