PHOENIX – Natalie Gulbis expects to come back strong.
Gulbis, who withdrew from the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup on Tuesday night, contracted malaria while playing the LPGA’s Asian swing this past month.
“Let everyone know I’m going to be fine, I’m not critical or anything, and I am not contagious,” Gulbis told GolfChannel.com in a telephone interview from her home in Newport Beach, Calif.
Gulbis also wanted LPGA fans to know the illness wouldn’t stop her from returning to Asia for future LPGA events. In fact, in a month she said she is planning to fly to Seoul, South Korea – after the Kraft Nabisco Championship – to play in a Jimmy V charity event there.
“I love playing over there,” Gulbis said. “It’s not going to change my desire to play in Asia at all.”
Gulbis expects to be at full strength in three weeks and is aiming to return to competition at the season’s first major, the Kraft Nabisco, April 4-7.
Gulbis believes she contracted malaria while playing the Honda LPGA Thailand three weeks ago. She said she was bitten by more than one mosquito there but one particular bite on her left leg wasn’t normal.
“It swelled up and looked like it was infected,” Gulbis said.
The bite healed and Gulbis didn’t feel any symptoms, but there’s an incubation period for malaria’s onset. A week later, before the first round of the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore, Gulbis began feeling ill. She played the first round anyway, but she woke before Friday’s second round with a 104-degree fever. She withdrew there and sought medical treatment in Singapore. Initially, she was treated for flu-like symptoms but a blood test came back that Saturday in Singapore that revealed she had contracted malaria.
With doctors in Singapore treating her, Gulbis was cleared to fly home to the United States on the Monday after the HSBC Women’s Champions. She saw a specialist upon returning to her place in Newport Beach, Calif., and the treatment appeared to be working well as her strength returned last week. Gulbis played a corporate outing last Friday and practiced on Saturday and Sunday, but she woke Tuesday morning with fever and chills again.
“I relapsed,” Gulbis said.
During an LPGA player meeting Tuesday night, commissioner Mike Whan updated his membership on Gulbis’ status. He also reassured them with news that the Scottsdale Healthcare staff would be doing malaria screenings in the locker room Wednesday. Approximately 20 players, caddies and LPGA staff chose to go through the screening. Nobody other than Gulbis, however, is known to have come down with malaria.
Se Ri Pak also withdrew from the HSBC Women's Champions with flu-like symptoms, but Whan's staff contacted Pak Tuesday to make sure she didn't actually have something worse. Pak reported she is unaffected.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, malaria is a “serious' disease caused by a parasite that infects a certain kind of mosquito that feeds on human beings. The CDC reports that about 1,500 cases of malaria are diagnosed in the United States each year with the vast majority among travelers and immigrants returning from parts of the world where malaria transmission occurs, including South Asia.
“The good news is that malaria is very treatable,” Gulbis said.