|Malaria has been around as long as humans have. Alexander the Great suffered from malaria, and mummies from Egypt have shown signs of the disease. Dante even wrote about malaria in the Inferno:|
Like those who shake,
Feeling the quartan fever coming on --
Their nails already blue, so that they shiver
At the mere sight of shade—such was I then ...
Dante: Inferno Canto XVII (15)
Many Americans don't realize, however, that we suffered from malaria in the U.S. Scientists believe it's not native to this part of the world, as there are no traces of malaria among Native Americans before Europeans arrived on the continent. But the malaria parasite traveled overseas in the bodies of Europeans, who carried a milder form of malaria, and in the bodies of African slaves, who carried the most deadly form of the disease,falciparum malaria. Anopheles mosquitoes in North America contracted malaria and transmitted it from human to human.
In the north and midwest, the milder form of malaria flourished, leaving people sickly and tired. Deadly falciparum malaria killed primarily children and pregnant women in the warm, humid south. Malaria even contributed to the development of slavery in the south, because white Europeans, if given the chance, moved to the less diseased north. Many Africans were better able to survive malaria, having already contracted it and survived in Africa, and so were forced to labor on southern plantations.
Malaria was eventually eradicated from the U.S. This happened mostly by accident, even before scientists were aware that mosquitoes transmitted the disease. People moved farther away from bodies of water and put up screens on new, sturdier homes. They moved to cities, and spent more time indoors. This broke the cycle of mosquito transmission. The last remnants of malaria in the rural south were finally wiped out in the 1940s by a more concentrated attack of draining swamps and spraying homes with DDT. In fact, Disney created a videoabout the dangers of malaria in the 1940s, featuring the well-loved dwarfs.
Margaret Humphreys, historian at Duke University, wrote the book, Malaria: Poverty, Race, and Public Health in the United States. She discusses how malaria reached the U.S., how local Anopheles mosquitoes affected the spread of the disease, how malaria contributed to the rise of slavery, and how malaria eventually disappeared.