Eradication, Prevention in the Spotlight on World Malaria Day

world malaria day, end malaria for good, WHO

Think malaria affects only countries far from the United States? Think again. Malaria is an ancient disease that was widespread across the continental United States fewer than 100 years ago. Today, about 1,500 cases of malaria are diagnosed in the United States each year, almost all in travelers who have returned from countries where malaria transmission is still common.

The ICD-10-CM Index provides multiple entries under the term malaria. The default code is B54 (Unspecified malaria). Most of your other options begin with B5x, too, but there are also congenital codes, including P37.3 (Congenital falciparum malaria) and P37.4 (Other congenital malaria).

Malaria eradication efforts in the U.S. shaped much of our nation’s current public health and infectious disease prevention infrastructure. As we approach World Malaria Day on April 25, let’s look back on the history of this disease as we work to “End Malaria for Good.”

Malaria — Not Bad Air, but Bad Mosquitoes

According to the CDC, malaria symptoms were first described in ancient Chinese medical texts around 2700 BC. By the 4th century BCE, malaria symptoms were described in Greece by Hippocrates. Roman writers attributed malarial diseases to swamps and “bad air,” the literal translation of the disease name, but on the Indian subcontinent, writers of a Sanskrit medical text blamed malarial fever symptoms on the bites of certain insects. However, it wasn’t until 1897 that a scientist proved that mosquitoes transmitted malaria parasites.

Malaria Control—The Reason the CDC Is in Atlanta

In the early parts of the 20th century, the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) got funding from Congress to begin to control malaria in the United States. Malaria was common on the east coast, south, and midwestern portions of the U.S., but with research and control activities, including treatment with antimalarial agents like chloroquine and especially with mosquito control by spraying widely with the pesticide DDT, the disease was virtually eradicated in the U.S. by 1951.

During World War II, the U.S. government established the Office of Malaria Control in War Areas (MCWA), with a goal of limiting the effect of malaria and other vector-borne diseases, like murine typhus, around military bases in the southern U.S. and U.S. territories. The MCWA’s central office was placed in Atlanta because the South was the part of the U.S. where malaria was most rampant. After the war, in 1946, the MCWA became the Communicable Disease Center, which was later renamed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

World Malaria Day 2016 — End Malaria for Good

World Malaria Day is one of WHO’s global health awareness days focusing on eliminating common public health problems across the planet. The malaria eradication efforts use some of the modalities that were successful in the U.S. in the ‘40s. WHO-led work in distributing insecticide-treated mosquito nets, diagnostic testing, and anti-malarial medicines to people at risk for the disease has been successful in reducing malaria morbidity and mortality. Since 2000, these efforts resulted in a 37 percent decline in global malaria cases, with a 60 percent drop in deaths. However, nearly half the world’s population — about 3.2 billion people — are still at risk of contracting malaria. The heaviest concentration of malaria cases is in sub-Saharan Africa, where 88 percent of malaria cases occur.

What About You?

I always wondered why the CDC was based in Atlanta instead of Washington, but my proud Atlantan friends just told me it was because their city was so superior to any other location. Did you know about the malaria connection with the CDC’s origins? Have you ever seen a case in your practice? Let us know in the comment box below.

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Susan taught health information and healthcare documentation at the community college level for more than 20 years. She has a special love for medical language and terminology. She is passionate about ensuring accurate patient healthcare documentation through education. She has a master's degree in healthcare administration, is a certified healthcare documentation specialist, and serves as immediate past president for the Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity (AHDI).


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