Two men who mysteriously died in a Springfield, Missouri, motel room while traveling Route 66 last month succumbed to cerebral malaria, according to several media outlets, including the Associated Press.
Gerrit Strydom, 45, and James Bethel, 44, both of South Africa, died of the noncommunicable disease before their bodies were found May 9 in separate rooms at the La Quinta Inn in Springfield, according to Tom Van De Berg, an investigator from Greene County medical examiner’s office, and tests by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It’s likely the two men contracted the disease from an infected mosquito in Africa before their trip.
“They flew into Chicago, and they had only actually spent a couple days on the road because they were feeling bad,” Van De Berg said. He said the two men had also been searching the Internet for their symptoms and had told their families back home they had not been feeling well.
“The symptoms started as soon as they got here, and they didn’t attribute it to malaria,” he said. One of the men may also have been experiencing symptoms shortly before leaving South Africa, he said.
Van De Berg would not say what symptoms the men had been experiencing but said they did not seek any medical attention in the Springfield area.
When the men’s deaths were first reported, local authorities said they died of “health issues” but were confident it wasn’t a highly contagious disease such as Ebola.
Dr. Neil Goodloe of CoxHealth in Springfield and Dr. David Claborn of Missouri State University told KSPR-TV in Springfield that malaria is rare in South Africa. However, the disease is much more common in sub-Sahara Africa, which led Goodloe to speculate the men may have traveled there before flying to Chicago.
Goodloe told KSPR that Bethel and Strydom may not have even noticed the symptoms, or at least developed them 48 hours before, and did not know to seek immediate treatment.
“They may not have noticed the symptoms as much as someone else that’s never been exposed to Malaria before. It’s a very treatable disease, as long as you come in for treatment. We have very active drugs that will treat the parasite and clear the infection and you will survive,” Dr. Goodloe said.
Claborn said the likelihood the two men contracted malaria in the United States is “very, very low.”
I urge our foreign explorers on Route 66 to seek a doctor if illness strikes. Even with a relatively disease such as malaria, a town such as Springfield is well-equipped to handle it because it’s home to a half-million people in the metro area and has a diverse college population that keeps hospitals on their toes.