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An outbreak of malaria in South Florida --- the largest in the United States since 1986 --- has health officials worried that the disease could take root again, more than 30 years after it was considered eradicated in the United States.
Eight locally acquired cases of the disease have been reported in Palm Beach County since July, including one last week.
Hundreds of Americans get malaria each year, but nearly all of them pick up the mosquito-borne disease overseas. A few cases have occurred in the United States in recent years but the Florida cluster is the largest. The patients, all male, have recovered or are still being treated.
"This outbreak demonstrates the potential for reintroduction of malaria into the United States despite intensive surveillance, vector-control activities and local public health response to educate clinicians and the community," researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report Thursday.
"Risks for locally acquired malaria are unlikely to abate given migration and travel patterns," they added.
Health officials believe the Florida outbreak was triggered by an international traveler or an immigrant, but that so-called index case has not been pinpointed.
Malaria, spread by parasites carried by mosquitos, causes about 400 million cases of illness and 1 million deaths worldwide each year.
Americans account for about 1,200 cases a year.
The Atlanta-based CDC was created in 1946 to combat the problem of malaria in the Southeast, and the disease was declared gone from the country in 1970.
Copyright 2003 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution