Malaria alert lifted for Sarasota and Manatee counties

State and local health officials still recommending public protection against mosquito bites

Chuck Henry addresses the commissioners during a 2022 meeting. File image

Sarasota County has been removed from the Florida Health Department’s Mosquito-Borne Illness Alert status as of this week, Chuck Henry, director of the county’s Health and Human Services Department — and the county Health Officer — informed the county commissioners via email on the evening of Sept. 11, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.

On May 26, the state Health Department issued that alert for both Sarasota and Manatee counties, reporting “one confirmed case of malaria among an individual who spent an extensive time outdoors.” The alert added, “The patient was promptly treated at a hospital and has recovered.”

Altogether, seven cases were confirmed in Sarasota County, with the last one noted in the Florida Health Department’s Arbovirus Surveillance Report for the week of July 9 through July 15.

In his email, Henry said that final case was confirmed on July 13. “At this time, no other cases are under investigation,” he added. “All cases have been treated and have recovered.”

All of the individuals who contracted the disease were in the Kensington Park and Desoto Acres communities in the northern part of the county, Sarasota County Mosquito Management Services staff pointed out. Three homeless persons were among them, Jamie Carson, director of the county’s Communications Department, said during a July 27 media briefing that included Audrey Lenhart, chief of the Entomology Branch in the Division of Parasitic Diseases and Malaria of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Carson also reported that, based on the timeline research has shown is necessary for the disease to build up sufficiently in mosquitoes to be transmitted to humans, and then the amount of time before an infected person starts to show symptoms, the malaria outbreak would be considered at an end around Sept. 7, provided no other cases were identified after July 13.

During a Sept. 12 briefing conducted online by the Florida Mosquito Control Association, Wade Brennan, director of Sarasota County’s Mosquito Management Services, noted that he and his staff had received word this week that the malaria alert had been lifted.

“That’s great news for Sarasota, the whole state and the residents of our two counties,” he said.

Nonetheless, Brennan urged residents to remain vigilant in protecting against mosquito bites, as the insects can carry a variety of serious diseases.

This graphic shows the location of Kensington Park. Image from Google Maps

This spring, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also posted an alert for Florida on the basis of the Sarasota County cases. The CDC noted that the disease was transmitted locally, meaning that the infected persons had not contracted it during travel out of the area.

The agency further advised the public that one case had been identified in Texas. Later, this summer, the CDC included information about a case in Maryland, as well. The latter case was reported in the vicinity of Washington, D.C., the CDC  indicated.

The CDC explained in that same report, “The risk of locally acquired malaria is very low in the United States. Malaria is primarily spread by mosquitoes. If you have traveled to an area where malaria occurs and develop fever, chills, headache, body aches, and fatigue, seek medical care urgently and tell your healthcare provider that you have traveled.”

In his Sept. 11 email, Henry, the Health Officer, told the commissioners, “Our overall message for the community continues to be prevention by avoiding mosquito bites through the use of repellents, clothing that covers and reduction of outside exposure from dusk to dawn.”

State health officials have offered the following recommendations:

  • Use mosquito repellent that contains DEET (10-30%), picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol, 2-undecanone or IR3535.
  • “Wear long sleeves and pants.
  • “Check and repair screens on doors and windows to prevent mosquitoes from entering your home.”

“To help reduce the population of mosquitos around your home,” the original advisory continued, “please drain and cover areas around your home.” The advisory also pointed out that mosquitoes reproduce in freshwater from rainstorms, sprinklers and other sources. “Drain pools of freshwater around your home and yard,” it said “Empty pet bowls, garbage cans, garbage can lids, bottles, tires, and anything where freshwater has accumulated.”

In his email to the county commissioners, Henry added more tips on using repellent:

  • “Use insect repellent approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on exposed skin and clothing. EPA’s helpful search tool can help you find the product that best suits your needs.
  • “Follow instructions on the product label, especially if you’re applying it to children.
  • “Apply insect repellent to exposed skin, or onto clothing, but not under clothing.
  • “Always follow instructions when applying insect repellent to children and do not use repellents with DEET on babies younger than 2 months or oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol” on children under the age of 3.
  • “Avoid applying repellents to the hands of children. Adults should apply repellent first to their own hands and then transfer it to the child’s skin and clothing.
  • “When using with sunscreen, apply sunscreen first and then repellent.”

Further information on mosquito prevention in Florida may be found here, the advisory said.