Malaria Outbreak in Bahamas Raises Travel Concerns

Following a small outbreak of malaria on Great Exuma Island, the Center for Disease Control has issued precautions for Bahamas-bound travelers.

If you're headed south this fall, you may want to take note of a recent malaria outbreak in the Bahamas. But should you be concerned? Well, not as concerned as you should be if you're headed to Haiti, where the disease is found almost everywhere, or to the Dominican Republic, where the disease is prevalent in rural areas (especially near Haiti). No other Caribbean islands have been affected.

In June, 19 cases of malaria were found on the island of Great Exuma in the Bahamas. On June 16, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) issued a temporary travel notice for those traveling to Great Exuma only. This was the first reporting of malaria on any Bahamian island in more than five years, and authorities now believe that the malaria was most likely caused by the importation of parasites from an endemic country. The Bahamas Ministry of Health and National Insurance reports that the strain of malaria found on Great Exuma is plasmodium falciparum, also known as malignant or cerebral malaria. This strain usually causes the most severe and potentially fatal symptoms in humans, but officials said that all afflicted patients responded well to chloroquine treatment.

As a further precaution, heath officials conducted widespread spraying on Great Exuma, especially near the airport. As of August 4, the ministry said that local transmission of malaria on Great Exuma had positively ceased. The ministry, working in conjunction with the Pan American Health Organization, came to this conclusion based on the passage of three successive incubation periods of 15 days each with no new cases.

At this time, the CDC is still recommending that U.S.-based travelers take preventive doses of chloroquine before, during, and after travelling to Great Exuma. The CDC also recommends that travelers adhere to the following precautions: use insect repellent; sleep in air-conditioned rooms, or in rooms with screens and mosquito netting around beds; wear long-sleeved shirts and pants; avoid exposure at dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes tend to be the most active.