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A four-year-old girl from northern Italy has died of cerebral malaria, it was recently announced. The case is puzzling Italian healthcare officials as the country was declared malaria free in 1970, and the girl, Sofia Zago, had not been abroad.

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Although Italy was one of the most endemic European countries for malaria during the 20th century – until DDT was used to eradicate it – the scientific puzzle shrouding the girl’s death is the fact that it was caused by Plasmodium falciparum, which is mainly found in Africa. The likelihood that an Italian mosquito transmitted the disease is very small.

In fact, it has been reported that investigators are considering that Zago may have been infected with a re-used needle when she was being treated for her diabetes at Santa Chiara hospital. (A family, who’d recently returned from a trip to Africa, were being treated for malaria at the same hospital.) However, this is still speculation.

 

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