Saturday 10th October 2020
The Anopheles mosquito that carries the Plasmodiu parasite. © CDC, public domain
A couple from Kampenhout in Flemish Brabant who died of malaria were likely infected by a mosquito that came to Belgium from Africa via the airports in Zaventem or Melsbroek.
The case is currently being investigated by the Flemish Health Authority and the Institute for Tropical Medicine in Antwerp. No information was given about the identity of the couple. The fatal infection also takes place at the end of September.
Malaria – the name suggests that early explorers thought it was due to poor air conditions – is caused by the Plasmodium parasite that lives on the female Anopheles mosquito.
The parasite gets into the liver and from there into the bloodstream, where it penetrates red blood cells and destroys them, which leads to typical fever in the early stages.
The disease can be fatal if smaller blood vessels become blocked, especially those in the brain.
Malaria remains widespread around the world. The World Health Organization estimates that 228 million cases occurred worldwide in 2018, resulting in 405,000 deaths, mostly in Africa.
Since the unhappy couple hadn’t visited the subtropical parts of Africa, Asia, and South America where Anopheles thrives, health officials suspect that the mosquito must have arrived in Belgium at Zaventem Airport or the air force base in nearby Melsbroek, around 6-7 kilometers away from Kampenhout – a distance the insect could easily cover.
Cases of malaria occur in Belgium, but infections are very rare. According to the Institute of Tropical Medicine, 275 cases were recorded in 2015 and 351 cases in 2018, all of which were returning from a visit to the affected areas.
One of the most famous cases was that of Stefan Everts, the motocross champion, who attended a charity event in the Congo without taking the prophylactic medication normally prescribed before a visit.
Everts became infected, fell into a coma, almost died, and had to have his toes amputated if the blood flow to his feet was lost. in the an interview with the television station Sporza in May he described how he still had pain in his right foot every day.
The Brussels times