Malaria in Belgium? That is not something you would expect. When you think of malaria you think of a tropical country far away from here. But in this case, it is really true. A couple contracted malaria in Belgium and died.
We know malaria as a so-called import disease. When people in the Netherlands have contracted malaria, they have normally caught it in a tropical (holiday) country that they visited. For the Belgian couple this was not the case, because they had not been traveling. That is why the Belgian authorities have investigated this further. It turns out that the most logical explanation for the infection is that an infected malaria mosquito has traveled by plane from Africa to Belgium.
Near an airport
The couple lived near an airport at a "flyable" distance for a malaria mosquito. Therefore, it appears that the mosquito has traveled by plane from Africa and then ended up in the house of the couple. Fortunately, this is an extremely rare set of circumstances. Yet it does happen very occasionally.
"Amsterdam Airport malaria"
Similarly, in the Netherlands, in the vicinity of Schiphol, decades ago someone got infected with malaria. This person had never left the Netherlands. At the time, the malaria parasite was isolated from the blood of this patient and brought into culture. To this day, this is the most widely used and best characterized malaria parasite for malaria research worldwide.
The tragic event in Belgium shows how deadly the malaria parasite can be. If not diagnosed in time, malaria can quickly kill, especially when people have never been in contact with the parasite before.
Should we be concerned now?
The tropical malaria mosquito does not occur here and cannot reproduce in our cold weather. The chance that the malaria mosquito will settle in our part of Europe is nil. Unfortunately, the mosquito does reproduce all too well in tropical countries, leading to one of the world's most deadly infectious diseases. All the more reason to work hard on a solution. BPRC researchers are happy to contribute to this.