Malaria surveillance--United States, 2001

MMWR Surveill Summ. 2003 Jul 18;52(5):1-14.


Problem/condition: Malaria is caused by any of four species of intraerythrocytic protozoa of the genus Plasmodium (i.e., P. falciparum, P. vivax, P. ovale, or P. malariae). These parasites are transmitted by the bite of an infective female Anopheles sp. mosquito. The majority of malaria infections in the United States occur among persons who have traveled to areas with ongoing transmission. In the United States, cases can occur through exposure to infected blood products, by congenital transmission, or by local mosquitoborne transmission. Malaria surveillance is conducted to identify episodes of local transmission and to guide prevention recommendations for travelers.

Period covered: This report covers cases with onset of illness in 2001.

Description of system: Malaria cases confirmed by blood film 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 (NMSS). Data from NMSS serve as the basis for this report.

Results: CDC received reports of 1,383 cases of malaria with an onset of symptoms in 2001 among persons in the United States or one of its territories. This number represents a decrease of 1.4% from the 1,402 cases reported for 2000. P. falciparum, P. vivax, P. malariae, and P. ovale were identified in 50.1%, 27.8%, 4.5%, and 3.6% of cases, respectively. Fourteen patients (1.0% of total) were infected by >/=2 species. The infecting species was unreported or undetermined in 179 (12.9%) cases. Compared with 2000, the number of reported malaria cases acquired in Africa increased by 13.2% (n = 886), whereas the number of cases acquired in Asia (n = 163) and the Americas (n = 240) decreased by 31.5% and 11.4%, respectively. Of 891 U.S. civilians who acquired malaria abroad, 180 (20.2%) reported that they had followed a chemoprophylactic drug regimen recommended by CDC for the area to which they had traveled. Two patients became infected in the United States, one through congenital transmission and one whose infection cannot be linked epidemiologically to secondary cases. Eleven deaths were attributed to malaria, 10 caused by P. falciparum and one caused by P. ovale.

Interpretation: The 1.4% decrease in malaria cases in 2001, compared with 2000, resulted primarily from a decrease in cases acquired in Asia and the Americas, but this decrease was offset by an increase in the number of cases acquired in Africa. This decrease probably represents year-to-year variation in malaria cases, but also could have resulted from local changes in disease transmission, decreased travel to malaria-endemic regions, fluctuation in reporting to state and local health departments, or an increased use of effective antimalarial chemoprophylaxis. In the majority of reported cases, U.S. civilians who acquired infection abroad were not on an appropriate chemoprophylaxis regimen for the country in which they acquired malaria.

Public health actions: Additional information was obtained concerning the 11 fatal cases and the two infections acquired in the United States. Persons traveling to a malarious area should take one of the recommended chemoprophylaxis regimens appropriate for the region of travel, and travelers should use personal protection measures to prevent mosquito bites. Any person who has been to a malarious area and who subsequently develops a fever or influenza-like symptoms should seek medical care immediately and report their travel history to the clinician; investigation should include a blood-film test for malaria. Malaria infections can be fatal if not diagnosed and treated promptly. Recommendations concerning malaria prevention can be obtained from CDC by calling the Malaria Hotline at 770-488-7788 or by accessing CDC's Internet site at

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Malaria / diagnosis
  • Malaria / epidemiology*
  • Malaria / prevention & control
  • Population Surveillance*
  • Public Health Practice
  • Travel
  • Treatment Failure
  • United States / epidemiology