Friday, March 05, 2010

Haiti refugees, aid workers risk malaria: US study

WASHINGTON — Hundreds of thousands of Haitians living in makeshift shelters and thousands of aid workers providing relief since a powerful quake rocked the country in January are now threatened by malaria, a US report said Thursday.

"Displaced persons living outdoors or in temporary shelters and thousands of emergency responders in Haiti are at substantial risk for malaria," the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in its weekly morbidity and mortality report.

Malaria caused by plasmodium falciparum, which is the most deadly and severe form of malaria, is endemic in Haiti, and the mosquito that carries and transmits it "frequently bites outdoors," the report said.

More than one million people were left homeless by the 7.0-magnitude quake on January 12, which Haiti's civil protection agency has estimated killed more than 222,000 people.

The impoverished Caribbean nation is now being battered by one of two rainy seasons, and malaria transmission in Haiti traditionally peaks in May or June, after the rains have stopped, the CDC said.

Haiti reports 30,000 confirmed cases of malaria each year to the Pan American Health Organization, but the real incidence of the mosquito-borne illness is probably as high as 200,000 cases, the CDC report said.

In the six weeks following the January 12 earthquake, the CDC received reports of 11 patients who had been infected with malaria while in Haiti.

Seven were US emergency responders, including six members of the US military; three were Haitian residents who travelled to the United States, including one adoptee; and one was a "US traveller."

Six of the eight Americans did not take anti-malaria tablets as they should have while in Haiti, the report said.

An estimated 243 million cases of malaria around the world in 2008 led to almost 863,000 deaths, according the World Health Organisation.

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