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Sofia Zago, a four-year-old girl in Brescia recently died of a malaria infection called cerebral malaria. Doctors said that this is the deadliest type and Zago died 24 hours after she was taken to the hospital on Saturday.

Malaria is a parasitic disease caused by protozoa of the genus Plasmodium. It is the cause of over 300 million cases of acute illness each year. According to World Health Organisation, it is the most prominent cause of death among young children.

Despite its regular occurrence in various parts of Africa, it is seen as rare in Italy. This is due to the eradication of the Anopheles mosquito, the carrier of the protozoa in the region and other European areas.

According to Dr Claudio Paternoster, an infectious diseases specialist at Trento’s Santa Chiara Hospital, Zago’s case was the first instance he had witnessed in the local area in the past thirty years. He went further to say that it was his first time of seeing a malaria case originating in Trentino. Since the 1950s, there has been no problem of malaria in Italy because all mosquito-infested marshes were drained.

Health authorities formulated two theories: the mosquito might have travelled with Zago as she went on a holiday with her parents recently at an Adriatic resort near Venice called Bibione, or she caught it from one of the two children that were treated for malaria at the Trento hospital in August. The second postulation is however unlikely because the children were not admitted to the same ward as Zago and had recovered.

Anopheles mosquitoes inhabit vast areas of Asia, the South Pacific, Africa, Central and South America, and some parts of Eastern Europe. It was the first place in the world to record zero cases of locally-acquired malaria in 2015, as the number of cases dropped from 90, 712 in 1995 to zero in 2015.

Perplexity continues to knit the brows of the doctors as they try to understand the source of Zago’s malaria case.

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