Published: Thursday 15 January 1998

Malaria cases in Venezuela are poised to jump by more than a third next year. Researchers studying statistics covering nearly half a century say that a steep rise in malaria cases always follows after an El Nio - when the ocean currents and the winds in the Pacific are reversed.

At a meeting of the American Medical Association, Menno Bouma, a researcher at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said that doctors in Venezuela will need to take special action against malaria in the years following an El Nio. "This includes vigilance, ensuring adequate drug supplies and encouraging self-protection," he said.

Christopher Dye, who is working for the World Health Organization in Geneva says that the research provides clear evidence of the effect of El Nio on malaria. He says that it exaggerates regular malaria surges where the disease is already seasonal.Bouma says that the El Nio may affect malaria in a similar way in the neighbouring states of Colombia and Guyana.

Bouma and Dye analysed 45 years of malaria data from Venezuela. They took into account the deaths from 1910 to 1935 and the cases from 1975-1995. There were eight El Nio events during these periods. In the years following El Nio, the incidence of disease and the number of deaths due to malaria rose by an average of 37 per cent.

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