Man treated for rare, deadly type of malaria at UNM Hospital

Health News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – It’s a medical mystery at New Mexico’s largest hospital. How a man got a rare mosquito-borne illness may never be known and if it wasn’t for a team of internationally trained doctors, he may not be alive.

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University of New Mexico Hospital Professor Dr. Suman Pal says the patient was the kind of sick that just didn’t make sense. The patient was experiencing high fevers, shakes, jaundice and confusion. All symptoms Dr. Pal has treated time and time again and all symptoms that point to an illness that’s incredibly rare in the United States and New Mexico.

“His nurse was the first person to start saying it looks like malaria and that’s where we started thinking,” Dr. Pal said.

Tests proved the patient was sick with the disease, but not just any malaria, the deadliest strand of the disease called falciparum malaria. Usually, people only get that when they’ve recently visited a country where malaria is common but the patient had not.

“There was a malaria-carrying mosquito that somehow hitched a ride on a flight and that when he was at an airport, which had flights from malaria-endemic countries… the mosquito, by chance, happened to bite him. This has also been theorized but again never definitively proven just because of how rare this sort of situation is,” Dr. Pal said.

Luckily, Dr. Pal trained in India, a country where malaria is very common, and had experience with the disease. So did many other UNMH doctors. Within a week, the man started showing drastic improvements.

“I think his family was very, very relieved because they understood early on how ill he was and, therefore, they were really happy to see him recover,” Dr. Pal said.

While Dr. Pal may never know exactly how the patient got sick. He’s happy he got to treat him and see him walk out of the hospital with his family.

While malaria is now very rare in New Mexico, totaling only seven cases in the last four years, it was a big problem in the 1930s, especially along the Rio Grande. During the Great Depression, the state gave unemployed men the job of draining swampy areas that served as mosquito breeding grounds. By the end of the decade, the disease rarely disappeared from the state.

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