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Do you know Malaria's history?

The disease malaria is much older than what many people may think. The first malaria reference was found in a Chinese document, called the Nei Ching[1], from 2700 B.C. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017). Malaria Soon, malaria became recognized throughout the world.   Researchers and scientists found references in other locations, such as the Mesopotamia clay tablets in 2000 BC and in the Egyptian papyrus from 1570 BC, and Hindu texts, which data as far back as the 6th Century BC (Cox, 2010).  In addition, disease was the cause for declines in population in many of Greece’s city-states during the 4th Century BC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017).  However, the Grecianphysician, Hippocrates, known as the "Father of Medicine" was the first to attribute all the ailments to a disease.  Previously, people thought the ailments occurred due to supernatural reasons.

When scientists first discovered malaria, many people thought swamps caused the illness.  This idea lasted for more than 2500 years.  In fact, the word “malaria” is Italian for meaning “spoiled air,” – the same air which supposedly infected people.  However, that idea was thrown out when scientists discovered the real malaria: mosquitoes.

As malaria became prominent, more scientists began to study malaria.  There were questions that were left unanswered.  How was malaria contracted?  What exactly caused it?  Were there certain populations who were more vulnerable than other populations?  Then, in the Compendium of Susruta, a Sanskrit medical treatise, authors first mentioned that insects caused malaria (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017).  In the 2nd Century B.C., Chinese scientists discovered the Qinghao plant, also known as sweet wormwood, help patients with malaria. Then, Indigenous Indians, during the time Europeans discovered the “New World,” discovered that both the medicinal bark (Quinine) of the Cinchona Tree and medicine from the Qinghao plant can still be used to stop malaria today.

As scientists researched malaria, they also began looking for cures.  The first recorded cure came from the Native, Peruvian Indians during the early 1600s.  They used the bitter bark of the Cinchona tree to help fight malaria.  By 1649, the English could find Cinchona medicine available, known in England as "Jesuits powder" for them to use too.

Louis Pasteur might be known for the process of pasteurization, which is known as a process that kills microbes (such as bacteria) in food and drinks, such as milk.  However, Pasteur’s development of his theory that germs cause infection caused microbiologists to change their focus.  What if it was a bacterium that caused malaria?  Then, Charles Louis Alphonse Laveran made the discovery in 1880 when he found the parasites that caused malaria.  Less than two decades later, the Italian scientists Giovanni Battista Grassi, Amico Bignami, Giuseppe Bastianelli, Angelo Celli, Camillo Golgi, and Ettore Marchiafava revealed that  mosquitos were what transferred the parasite into the human blood (Cox, 2010).


[1] The Nei Ching is known as the Canon of Medicine.

Bibliography

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The History of Malaria, an Acient Disease. 19 December 2017. 6 February 2018.

Cox, Francis EG. "History of the Discovery of the Malaria Parasites and Their Vectors." Parasites & Vectors 3.5 (2010).

Nobelprize.org. Malaria: Past and Present. 9 December 2003. 19 February 2018. <https://www.nobelprize.org/educational/medicine/malaria/readmore/history.html>.