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Malaria May Be Back in Italy After Decades Amid ‘Very Hot Summer’

 5 September, 2017

ROME — Malaria killed a 4-year-old girl in Italy, raising fears that the mosquito-borne disease has returned to the country after decades.

Sonia Zago developed a high fever after returning home from a vacation in Bibione, a seaside town on the Adriatic coast near Venice.

As her condition worsened, she was taken to a hospital in the northern city of Trento. Within an hour of arriving, the girl had fallen into a coma and was diagnosed with malaria. Zago was then transferred to a hospital in Brescia that treats tropical diseases, but she died on Sunday night.

The girl had never traveled to a risk-prone country, raising questions about how she contracted the disease.


The Ministry of Health confirmed Tuesday that it had dispatched a team of experts to investigate.

Dr. Claudio Paternoster, director of the infectious diseases ward at Santa Chiara hospital in Trento, said that he had not seen a case of home-grown malaria during his 30-year career.

He said that Zago had been admitted to the facility about two weeks ago due to suspected diabetes and had shared a ward with two children who had contracted malaria while in Burkina Faso.

“It’s not probable, almost impossible, to pass on the [parasite] from patient to patient,” Paternoster told NBC News. “So the only option I can think of is that the mosquito that carried the disease may have traveled to Italy, and survived somehow.”


He added: “It baffles us how she could have been infected.”

Italy has been malaria-free since the 1950s, with most recorded cases linked to tourists who returned from countries where it is common.

Paternoster speculated that climate change may be to blame.

”It was a long and very hot summer,” Italian daily Corriere della Sera quoted Paternoster as saying.

On Tuesday, the World Health Organization was hosting a meeting in Moscow to discuss how to keep Europe malaria-free. Zero cases of home-grown malaria were reported in Europe in 2015.

The WHO says Italy could be vulnerable to a return of malaria if mosquitoes are not properly controlled.

Malaria is caused by a parasite that has a complex life cycle dependent on both animals, including humans, and mosquitoes.

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