Authorities have confirmed a new case of malaria in Guanacaste – the fifth incidence of the disease in the northwestern province in the last month.
Despite the presence of the carrier mosquito Anopheles, malaria is almost unheard of in the region and, in the few cases that do exist, patients are usually believed to have contracted the disease outside the province.
While dengue fever is the primary public health worry for most people in Costa Rica, malaria is endemic to the country, although almost exclusively confined to the Caribbean coast.
Concerns were first raised in mid- December when four people from Playa Potrero were diagnosed with the disease. Authorities initially believed that these cases were not native to the province, but are now not so sure.
The revelation that a 27-year-old man, also from Playa Potrero, was diagnosed with the parasitic infection last week has increased their concerns.
“Following tests that we have been carrying out, we are working on the basis that the cases appear to be native,” said Dr. Juan Luis Sánchez, director for the Ministry of Health in Santa Cruz. “They are people who live and work in the area … we need to remain conscious of the fact that the vector (the mosquito) is present in the region and, what is more, the people who have fallen ill appear not to have left the region,” he added.
However, when questioned by The Tico Times, other Ministry of Health officials were unconcerned.
Teresa Solano, who heads the ministry’s epidemiology unit, said, “There is no malaria in Guanacaste… There is no active transmission in that zone.”
Solano said she was not aware of the new case and cast doubt on the accuracy of some press coverage. However, despite her skepticism, she said she would be looking into the reports.
“Malaria is endemic in this country; if they tell me that there are 50 cases then, yes, (I would be worried), but not with one.”
Nevertheless, Sánchez said, “We are preparing ourselves and dealing with it as if it were native – we are not complacent about the problem.”
He said that officials did a comprehensive sweep of the area to check for other cases and fumigated a wide area as a further precaution.
“We need to stay vigilant,” he said, “but we are hoping that, with the measures we have taken, the problem will not become more serious.”