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Couple from Flemish Brabant dies of malaria

A couple from the Flemish Brabant municipality of Kampenhout have died after they became infected with malaria. The malaria deaths that occurred at the end of last month are extremely rare in Flanders. The Flemish Care and Health Agency believes that the couple became infected after having been bitten by a mosquito carrying the infectious disease that arrived here on board a plane. Kampenhout is just a few kilometres from Zaventem Airport and Melsbroek Military Airport. The mosquito is now almost certainly dead. 

Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious tropical disease. It affects humans and other animals. Malaria symptoms typically include fever, tiredness, vomiting and headaches. In more severe cases it can turn the skin yellow and causes seizures, coma and even death. The symptoms usually become apparent around 15 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. If not, correctly treated people may suffer recurrences of the symptoms.

Mosquitos that carry malaria live in tropical and sub-tropical regions, mainly in Africa, South America and Asia. The WHO estimates that in 2018 there were 228 million malaria infections worldwide. That year more than 405,000 people died of malaria, most of whom in Africa.

As the mosquito that carries malaria is not native to areas with temperate climates such as Belgium the Flemish Care and Health Agency believes that the mosquito entered the country via the airport. The Agency’s Joris Moonens told VRT News that “The couple lived a few kilometres from Zaventem and Melsbroek Airports, a distance that a mosquito can travel. This is the only possible explanation for how a mosquito ended up in the country and was able to make its way to the victims”.

Mr Moonens added the mosquito has almost certainly since died. "The couple was bitten in mid-September and became infected. The mosquito couldn’t have survived here in the meantime as it has become too cold. No other people have been bitten as they would have become ill some time ago and it wouldn’t have gone unnoticed. So, it is as good as certain that there have been no other infections.

Airports make great efforts to ensure that tropical mosquitos don’t enter the country.  "Flights from at risk areas are disinfected. There are also insect traps at the airports. You can never be 100% certain that a mosquito won’t slip through the net, as appears to have been the case here”.

The Institute for Tropical Medicine in Antwerp says that malaria is extremely rare in Belgium. In 2018 there were 351 cases. All of those that had become infected had done so while they were abroad.


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