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MMWR Surveill Summ. 2005 Jun 3;54(2):25-40.

Malaria surveillance--United States, 2003.

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  • 1Epidemic Intelligence Service, Office of Workforce and Career Development, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), USA.



Malaria in humans 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 also 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.


This report covers cases with onset of illness in 2003, and summarizes trends over previous years.


Malaria cases confirmed by blood film are mandated to be 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.


CDC received reports of 1,278 cases of malaria with an onset of symptoms in 2003, including seven fatal cases, among persons in the United States or one of its territories. This number represents a decrease of 4.4% from the 1,337 cases reported for 2002. P. falciparum, P. vivax, P. malariae, and P. ovale were identified in 53.3%, 22.9%, 3.6%, and 2.6% of cases, respectively. Twelve patients (0.9% of total) were infected by two or more species. The infecting species was unreported or undetermined in 212 (16.6%) cases. Compared with 2002, the number of reported malaria cases acquired in Asia (n = 177) and the Americas (n = 147) increased by 3.5% and 4.3% respectively, whereas the number of cases acquired in Africa (n = 840) decreased by 7.0%. Of 762 U.S. civilians who acquired malaria abroad, 132 (17.3%) reported that they had followed a chemoprophylactic drug regimen recommended by CDC for the area to which they had traveled. Ten patients became infected in the United States, including one probable transfusion-related, one in which epidemiologic investigations failed to identify any apparent mode of acquisition, and eight which were introduced cases as a result of local mosquitoborne transmission. Of the seven deaths attributed to malaria, five were caused by P. falciparum, and a species was not identified in the other two.


The 4.4% decrease in malaria cases in 2003, compared with 2002, resulted primarily from a decrease in cases acquired in Africa, but this decrease was offset by an increase in the number of cases acquired in the Americas and Asia. This small 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, or fluctuation in reporting to state and local health departments. 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.


Additional information was obtained concerning the seven fatal cases and the 10 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 experiences 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 Recommendations concerning diagnosis of malaria and its treatment can be obtained by calling the Malaria Hotline or accessing CDC's Internet site at

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