SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- The threat of malaria now is "virtually non-existent" in the Dominican Republic, and no new cases have been reported since Dec. 5, according to the islands Dept. of Tourism.

Luis Simo, deputy minister of tourism for international affairs, said the country did experience "17 cases of malaria [but no deaths] from September through November 2004 as a result of heavy flooding from hurricane Jeanne in September."

Most of the malaria cases were centered in the Punta Cana and Puerto Plata areas.

Malaria is transported by the bite of an infected mosquito and is found throughout the world, mostly in tropical and sub-tropical regions. It kills between 1 million and 2.7 million people each year, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Several U.S. and Canadian tour operators as well as some hotels in the Dominican Republic reported cancellations through January and said that there was "a lot of confusion" regarding the lack of information from official sources.

In addition, cases of the highly contagious Norwalk virus, or norovirus, were reported during the same time period in the same areas of the country.

Immediately following hurricane Jeanne, the Pan-American Health Organization, the Dept. of Tourism, the Dept. of Public Health and the Association of Hotels and Restaurants implemented a special malaria control policy. Measures included preventative fumigations, the reinforcement of preventative health services and the assignment of permanent medical staff to all resorts.

Government agencies and the World Health Organization are monitoring the situation, and the CDC continues to recommend that visitors take the antimalarial drug chloroquine as a precaution.

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].

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