The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) is calling on everyone presenting with a fever or a “flu-like” illness residing in Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga or people who have travelled to Mozambique in the past six weeks to be tested for malaria.
Malaria outbreak: Here’s what you need to know
According to the NICD, in a statement released on Monday, tests can be done by blood smear microscopy or rapid diagnostic test and patients should be started on malaria treatment immediately if they test positive.
“Despite South Africa entering its peak malaria season, many malaria cases are being misdiagnosed as COVID-19. Both malaria and COVID-19 have similar non-specific early symptoms including fever, chills, headaches, fatigue and muscle pain.”
The NICD has cautioned that undiagnosed and untreated malaria rapidly progresses to severe illness, with a potentially fatal outcome.
In addition, the institute said patients should always remember to inform their healthcare provider of their recent travel, particularly to neighbouring countries and malaria-risk areas locally.
Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga are considered South Africa’s malaria-risk areas, while Mozambique is among the 10 nations with the highest burden of the fatal disease worldwide.
“Odyssean or ‘taxi malaria’, transmitted by hitch-hiking mosquitoes, should be considered in a patient with unexplained fever who has not travelled to a malaria-endemic area, but is getting progressively sicker, with a low platelet count,” the NICD explained.
Is a malaria infection deadly?
According to the NICD, malaria is a potentially life-threatening disease caused by blood parasites of the genus Plasmodium, which are transmitted through the bites of infected mosquitoes.
In the human body, the parasites first multiply in the liver and then infect the red blood cells.
Globally, malaria is one of the six major causes of death from communicable diseases, of which 90% of the world’s approximately 440 000 annual malaria fatalities occur in Africa.
According to the NICD’s data, from 2015 to 2019, South Africa had between 10 000 and 30 000 notified cases of malaria per year.
The Elimination Eight Initiative (E8) is a coalition of eight Southern African countries working across national borders to eliminate malaria by 2030.
Meanwhile, South Africa is one of four front-line E8 countries earmarked to eradicate malaria by 2025.
While South Africa has made significant progress towards eliminating malaria, the NICD said the country still needs to do more.
“Access to malaria services needs to be expanded to ensure that all malaria carriers are detected and treated to prevent the seeding of secondary transmission.”