A major malaria outbreak is ongoing in Ciudad Guayana (Bolívar state), where, according to one estimate, as much as half the population has been infected by the mosquito-borne disease. The worst-hit area is the parroquia (parish) of Pozo Verde, where three malaria-related deaths have been reported in the past week. Major shortages of antimalarial medications and drugs needed to treat malarial patients affect Ciudad Guayana, and the rest of the country more generally, making the outbreak even more dangerous.
Some 210,000 cases of malaria were reported in 2016, a major increase compared to 2015, which set historic records with a total of 136,402 infections. Official statistics for 2017 have not yet been released. The disease was confirmed in 17 of the country’s 24 states, with the majority of cases reported in Bolívar (177,600 cases), Amazonas, Sucre, Nueva Esparta, Apure, Zulia, and Vargas. Both the Plasmodium vivax strain and the more dangerous Plasmodium falciparum strain are present.
Malaria was officially eradicated in the country some 50 years ago and cases were relatively rare prior to the 2015 outbreak. The current epidemic has been attributed in large part to a surge in illegal mining practices (triggered by the ongoing economic crisis), which leave open pits where stagnant water collects, creating fertile mosquito breeding grounds. Diphtheria has also made a resurgence in the country after a 25-year absence. These outbreaks come amid a multi-front crisis in Venezuela, with major shortages of medications and medical supplies (as well as food and other necessities), among various other issues. On average, more than eight out of ten medications are difficult or impossible to find in the country, including artemisinin derivatives, used to treat P. falciparum cases.
Symptoms of malaria include fever, chills, headache, nausea, and body aches. Early symptoms usually appear between ten and 15 days after the contaminating mosquito bite. There is no vaccine, but preventive medications are available. Pregnant women, HIV-positive persons, children under the age of five, and the elderly are particularly vulnerable.
To minimize the risk of contracting malaria or the many other mosquito-borne diseases presenting Venezuela, use insect repellent, wear covering clothing, and sleep under mosquito netting or in an air conditioned room. If you develop a high fever during or after travel in areas affected by malaria, seek immediate medical attention.