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Doctors warn on risk of 'imported malaria' from Africa with borders reopening

Doctors at Hanoi's Bạch Mai Hospital have warned of the risk of malaria from Africa as the hospital's Centre for Tropical Diseases is treating two malaria patients who returned from Angola recently.

For many years, Hanoi and the northern provinces have had almost no malaria patients, so the timely detection, diagnosis and treatment of malaria cases returning from abroad in grass-roots health facilities is difficult and easily missed.

Patient Nguyen Dinh Th., 38, from the central province of Ha Tinh, returned home from Angola one week ago.

Before, he worked and lived in Angola for 12 years. Five days before being hospitalised, he got a high fever, shivers and severe headaches. The fevers mainly occurred in the afternoon twice a day, accompanied by painful urination and loose stools.

The patient went to a medical facility near his home, but doctors did not find any disease, so he went to the Ha Tinh General Hospital in severe condition and was transferred to the Centre for Tropical Diseases.

After exploiting the epidemiological factors by doing blood tests, the doctors discovered Plasmodium falciparum's malaria parasite in his blood.

The second patient is a 6-month pregnant woman in Hanoi. She worked in Angola for eight years and just came back to Hanoi one week ago.

Three days before the hospital admission, she had a high fever and severe chills, mainly in the evening.

After the fever, she sweated a lot, accompanied by vomiting, nausea and headaches.

She went to a private clinic, was admitted to the National Institute of Malaria, Parasitology and Entomology for testing and was diagnosed with malaria.

Due to her pregnancy and low platelet disease, she was transferred to the Centre for Tropical Diseases, where she was closely monitored.

According to Associated Professor Do Duy Cuong, the centre's director, both patients developed fever right after returning to Vietnam, but the healthcare facilities at the grass-roots level did not pay attention to the epidemiological factor that they had been in Africa, so they did not detect the disease.

Due to the rampant atypical malaria symptoms, it was easy to confuse with other diseases such as flu, COVID-19, dengue fever, or urinary infection, Cường said.

Cường added: "In recent years, malaria in Vietnam had been controlled quite successfully because we had effective malaria control programmes in localities and adequate malarial medicines, so the rates of infection and mortality from the disease had decreased significantly."

"The disease has now occurred only in a few provinces in the Central Highlands and southern provinces." 

However, the centre recently received many malaria patients from Africa, so it is called "imported" malaria.

The doctor said the reason was due to a lot of travel and the restoration of flights for Vietnamese people returning home from Africa, especially from Angola, after a period of COVID-19.

There have been many warnings about malaria cases returning from Africa in recent years, especially in those who returned from Angola.

Therefore, these people must declare epidemiological factors, monitor health and get tested because malaria can become severe and life-threatening.

"We had seen many cases of malaria becoming acute malaria with the symptom of persistent high fever, which can cause patients to enter into a coma for three to five days, which is life-threatening," the doctor said.

"When falling into a coma, patients can get multi-organ failure of the liver, kidneys and lungs, or anaemia, convulsions and hypoglycemia," he said.

"However, if treated promptly, the organ functions will gradually recover with the right medicines." 

Currently, the malaria medicines of Artesunate and Arterakin are provided under the malaria prevention and control programme by the Ministry of Health./.