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Malaria surveillance — United States, 2014
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  • Description:
    Problem/Condition: Malaria in humans is caused by intraerythrocytic protozoa of the genus Plasmodium. These parasites are transmitted by the bite of an infective female Anopheles mosquito. The majority of malaria infections in the United States occur among persons who have traveled to regions with ongoing malaria transmission. However, malaria is occasionally acquired by persons who have not traveled out of the country through exposure to infected blood products, congenital transmission, laboratory exposure, or local mosquitoborne transmission. Malaria surveillance in the United States is conducted to identify episodes of local transmission and to guide prevention recommendations for travelers.

    Period Covered: This report summarizes cases in persons with onset of illness in 2014 and trends during previous years.

    Description of System: Malaria cases diagnosed by blood film, polymerase chain reaction, or rapid diagnostic tests are reported to local and state health departments by health care providers or laboratory staff. Case investigations are conducted by local and state health departments, and reports are transmitted to CDC through the National Malaria Surveillance System, National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System, or direct CDC consultations. CDC conducts antimalarial drug resistance marker testing on blood samples submitted by health care providers or local or state health departments. Data from these reporting systems serve as the basis for this report.

    Results: CDC received reports of 1,724 confirmed malaria cases, including one congenital case and two cryptic cases, with onset of symptoms in 2014 among persons in the United States. The number of confirmed cases in 2014 is consistent with the number of confirmed cases reported in 2013 (n = 1,741; this number has been updated from a previous publication to account for delayed reporting for persons with symptom onset occurring in late 2013). Plasmodium falciparum, P. vivax, P. ovale, and P. malariae were identified in 66.1%, 13.3%, 5.2%, and 2.7% of cases, respectively. Less than 1.0% of patients were infected with two species. The infecting species was unreported or undetermined in 11.7% of cases. CDC provided diagnostic assistance for 14.2% of confirmed cases and tested 12.0% of P. falciparum specimens for antimalarial resistance markers. Of patients who reported purpose of travel, 57.5% were visiting friends and relatives (VFR). Among U.S. residents for whom information on chemoprophylaxis use and travel region was known, 7.8% reported that they initiated and adhered to a chemoprophylaxis drug regimen recommended by CDC for the regions to which they had traveled. Thirty-two cases were among pregnant women, none of whom had adhered to chemoprophylaxis. Among all reported cases, 17.0% were classified as severe illness, and five persons with malaria died. CDC received 137 P. falciparum-positive samples for the detection of antimalarial resistance markers (although some loci for chloroquine and mefloquine were untestable for up to nine samples). Of the 137 samples tested, 131 (95.6%) had genetic polymorphisms associated with pyrimethamine drug resistance, 96 (70.0%) with sulfadoxine resistance, 77 (57.5%) with chloroquine resistance, three (2.3%) with mefloquine drug resistance, one (<1.0%) with atovaquone resistance, and two (1.4%) with artemisinin resistance.

    Interpretation: The overall trend of malaria cases has been increasing since 1973; the number of cases reported in 2014 is the fourth highest annual total since then. Despite progress in reducing global prevalence of malaria, the disease remains endemic in many regions and use of appropriate prevention measures by travelers is still inadequate.

    Public Health Action: Completion of data elements on the malaria case report form increased slightly in 2014 compared with 2013, but still remains unacceptably low. In 2014, at least one essential element (i.e., species, travel history, or resident status) was missing in 21.3% of case report forms. Incomplete reporting compromises efforts to examine trends in malaria cases and prevent infections. VFR travelers continue to be a difficult population to reach with effective malaria prevention strategies. Evidence-based prevention strategies that effectively target VFR travelers need to be developed and implemented to have a substantial impact on the number of imported malaria cases in the United States. Fewer U.S. resident patients reported taking chemoprophylaxis in 2014 (27.2%) compared with 2013 (28.6%), and adherence was poor among those who did take chemoprophylaxis. Proper use of malaria chemoprophylaxis will prevent the majority of malaria illnesses and reduce risk for severe disease (https://www.cdc.gov/malaria/travelers/drugs.html). Malaria infections can be fatal if not diagnosed and treated promptly with antimalarial medications appropriate for the patient’s age and medical history, likely country of malaria acquisition, and previous use of antimalarial chemoprophylaxis. Recent molecular laboratory advances have enabled CDC to identify and conduct molecular surveillance of antimalarial drug resistance markers (https://www.cdc.gov/malaria/features/ars.html) and improve the ability of CDC to track, guide treatment, and manage drug resistance in malaria parasites both domestically and globally. For this effort to be successful, specimens should be submitted for all cases diagnosed in the United States. Clinicians should consult CDC Guidelines for Treatment of Malaria in the United States and contact the CDC Malaria Hotline for case management advice, when needed. Malaria treatment recommendations can be obtained online at https://www.cdc.gov/malaria/diagnosis_treatment/ or by calling the Malaria Hotline at 770-488-7788 or toll-free at 855-856-4713.

    Suggested citation for this article: Mace KE, Arguin PM. Malaria Surveillance — United States, 2014. MMWR Surveill Summ 2017;66(No. SS-12):1–24. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.ss6612a1.

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