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Malaria cases rare but treatable if promptly diagnosed
George Sartan receives several vaccinations from registered nurse Beth Cassady inside the travel clinic Wednesday at the Hall County Health Department in Gainesville. Although most vaccinations for international travel are given via injections, malaria treatment is taken in a pill form. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

More than likely, malaria isn't something that most local folks have given much thought to - until recently.

Richard Kowalske, a 58-year-old Gainesville chiropractor, succumbed to malaria Saturday.

He'd recently returned from a mission trip to Uganda - which is where he is thought to have contracted the parasite. While abroad, Kowalske fell ill, but delayed seeking medical treatment - a decision that cost him his life.

Malaria, which is spread by infected mosquitoes, can be cured if it is diagnosed and treated in time.

"All strains of malaria can be treated, but some are worse than others," said Beth Cassady, a registered nurse with the International Travel Clinic in Gainesville.

"If you have one of the really bad (strains) and don't get help within the first three or four days, it could be deadly."

In some instances, malaria symptoms can be treated, disappear and reappear later.

Although malaria was eradicated in the United States in the 1950s, around 1,500 cases are reported annually nationwide, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention experts say.

The World Health Organization reports in 2008, there were around 1 million malaria deaths worldwide.

The majority of the deaths - 89 percent - occur in Africa, health experts say. Thirty countries in sub-Saharan Africa and five in Asia account for 98 percent of all malaria deaths worldwide, the CDC reports.

Areas near the Amazon rainforest in South America can also be a hot-spot for malaria infections, Cassady said.

Prior to heading abroad, Cassady says it's best for travellers to discuss their itinerary with a medical professional to outline a plan for certain immunizations and other preventative medications. With a high volume of local, international travelers, Cassady says the District 2 Public Health clinic stays pretty busy.

When it comes to parasites such as malaria, one treatment plan doesn't work for everyone.

"You have to use medication that is specifically prescribed for the type of malaria in the area where you will be traveling," Cassady said.

"You also have to use a medication that suits your particular health care needs."

If the prescribed medication isn't taken properly, travelers could still contract malaria.

In addition to medication, travelers should take other precautions to prevent being bitten by mosquitoes in general.

"There are mosquito nets, insect repellents that have (the chemical) DEET and even things you can treat your clothes with to deter them," Cassady said.

"All it takes is one bite from an infected mosquito."


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