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Malaria outbreak in south Philippines kills 31

graphic February 25, 1998
Web posted at: 6:17 a.m. EST (1117 GMT)

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines (CNN) -- An outbreak of malaria has killed 31 people in the southern Philippines and officials on Wednesday blamed bandits for frightening off health teams sent to kill mosquitoes in remote villages.

The Department of Health has sent medical teams to Siasi Island, 120 km (75 miles) southwest of Zamboanga, to contain the outbreak, which started in January, regional health director Lourdes Labiano said.

Twenty-four villagers on the small island died last month and another seven on Sunday. Another 200 have the disease, she said.

Health officials said malaria was endemic in several southern islands because they were heavily forested.

But health teams assigned to spray houses with insecticide could not penetrate some villages because of rebels and bandits roaming the area, they said.

Malaria called a growing threat

Malaria, a disease caused by parasites, causes or contributes to 3 million deaths and 500 million acute illnesses a year, according to the Malaria Foundation. Nearly eradicated in 37 coutries 30 years ago, it has since begun to return, as drug-resistant strains have developed.

Though it can be spread by blood transfusion or infected needles, most malaria cases are spread by mosquitoes, and efforts to slow its spread often focus on killing mosquitos. That effort has alse been complicated in recent years, as insect populations have developed immunity to pesticides.

The risk of Malaria infection is especially acute in developing countries, where medical care and pest control are uneven.

An outbreak in Kenya in late January and early February killed over 350 people, doctors said. Another disease outbreak that killed at least 143 people in the same country late 1997 was also identified as malaria.

Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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