Health authorities in Italy are investigating a case of death caused by malaria infection in a four-year-old girl, Sofia Zago in Brescia.
Doctors said that Zago suffered cerebral malaria, the deadliest form of the disease and died 24 hours after she was rushed to the hospital on Saturday.
Malaria, a parasitic disease caused by protozoa of the genus Plasmodium, causes at least 300 million cases of acute illness each year.
According to the World Health Organisation, it is the leading cause of death among young children.
While it is a common disease in many parts of Africa, it is considered a rare illness in Italy as the Anopheles mosquito that bears cerebral malaria had been eradicated in the region and other parts of Europe.
An infectious diseases specialist at Trento’s Santa Chiara Hospital, Dr Claudio Paternoster, said it was the first case he had seen locally in the past three decades.
Paternoster said, “It’s the first time in my 30-year career that I have seen a case of malaria originating in Trentino,”
Since the 1950s, Italy has not had a malaria problem because mosquito-infested marshes were drained.
Health authorities have two theories: the mosquito might have travelled with Vago as she recently vacationed with her parents at Bibione, an Adriatic resort near Venice or she caught malaria from one of the two children that were being treated for the disease at the Trento hospital in August.
The two children were infected when they travelled to some countries in Africa. Interestingly, they recovered.
The second suggestion is however unlikely says Trentino health official, Paolo Bordon, as Zago had not be admitted into the same ward as the two children.
Anopheles mosquitoes are found in large areas of Central and South America, Africa, Asia, the South Pacific and some parts of Eastern Europe, but not in the rest of Europe.
It was the first region in the world to record zero cases of locally-acquired malaria in 2015.The number of indigenous cases dropped from 90, 712 in 1995 to zero in 2015.
Doctors are puzzled by the latest case as it is not clear how the girl caught it, but her case is not odd.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention Control found a few cases of “locally acquired” malaria in the EU – two in France and three in Spain in 2014.
But there were explanations for how some of these might have occurred. One was a patient who had received a kidney from a donor with malaria; another was a newborn whose mother had recently returned from Equatorial Guinea.
One of the Spanish patients had no history of travel, but lived a few kilometres from a town where a “suitcase” malaria person lived. No infected local mosquitoes were found, but laboratory tests showed two people had an identical strain of the disease.