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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. _ The first locally contracted malaria cases since 1996 has county health officials scouring a neighborhood near Lake Worth for the source of the mosquito-transmitted disease _ and for a third person who likely brought it to the area.
Most likely, a third person somewhere in Palm Beach County contracted malaria outside the country and brought it here. Health officials would like to find and treat that person, said county health department director Dr. Jean Malecki said Sunday while announcing a "full-blown investigation."
In the neighborhood where the two malaria sufferers live four doors apart, five health department teams are surveying residents door-to-door. Neighbors have been urged to avoid mosquito bites. County mosquito control workers have sprayed and will begin collecting mosquitoes.
Each year, a few people contract malaria outside the U.S. and bring it to Palm Beach County _ five so far in 2003. But the infections of two men west of Lake Worth who haven't left the county is the first local contraction of the disease in seven years. The origin of that malaria case never was discovered.
Both malaria patients, Jeff Smith and Tom Fogleman, 46, were released Sunday. Their quick recovery leads health officials to suspect the disease is not the most severe of the four known strains of malaria. Additional testing will be done by the federal Centers for Disease Control, she said.
Fogleman's wife, Bonnie, said her husband's medication had taken away the chills and fever. She said he was glad to be home but wasn't going right to bed.
"He's spent so much time in bed, he's tired of it," she said.
In the victims' neighborhood, several neighbors reacted not with panic but with caution.
Roberta Duran, 39, said she's been sick for several days with flu-like symptoms similar to malaria: cold sweats, vomiting and nausea. This morning, she plans to see a doctor, she said. In the meantime, she's keeping her children indoors after dark.
"Hopefully, I just caught a bug," she said.
Duran speculated that her neighbors may have caught the disease at a block party on the Fourth of July.
"We're just kind of confused as to where and when," she said. "You just never hear of malaria."
Down the street, Andre Rivera, 31, spotted TV news trucks and a sheriff's patrol car and wondered if somebody committed murder.
"Something like that would have sounded less bizarre," he said.
Rivera said he'll probably limit his time in the backyard and stock up on mosquito repellent.
"Every little itch I'm going to be looking to see if it's a mosquito bite," he said.
Malaria is transferred from humans to other humans by the anopheles mosquito. Of 93 species of mosquitoes that inhabit Palm Beach County, it's one of the more rare, said Health Department Spokesman Tim O'Connor.
Symptoms vary, depending on which strain is contracted, and include: headache, aching in the bones, loss of appetite, vomiting, chills, teeth chattering coupled with sensations of heat and high fever and sweating. The disease can be cured with prescription drugs.
Avoiding malaria is easy in theory, Malecki said. "Avoid the bite of a mosquito. It's as simple as that."
Mosquito control trucks sprayed Friday in the neighborhood, said County Mosquito Control Director Ed Bradford. Inspectors will fan out today to find and kill mosquito larvae in water where they might breed. Crews will also collect adult mosquitoes and have them tested. And more aerial spraying will coat the neighborhood to kill other adult mosquitoes.
But finding infected mosquitoes may be unlikely, Bradford said. The insects that passed the disease to the two local men are certainly dead by now and other carriers may not exist, he said.
"You may not ever know where it came from," he said.
Inspectors searched for infected mosquitoes seven years ago but found none, he said.
"Back then there wasn't much we found out about it anyway," he said.
Fortunately, Bradford said, the mosquito population in the area is very low right now due to recent dry weather. However, the type of mosquito that generally transmits malaria breeds in permanent water with heavy vegetation instead of puddles of rainwater, he said.
Mosquito control workers spray mosquito larvae found in water with a bacteria that kills it. To collect adult samples, they use either or light trap with a fan and a mesh bag or venture out themselves at night waiting until a mosquito lands on them and then sucking it up with a collection device.
J. Christopher Hain writes for the Palm Beach Post. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cox News Service