Bad Air Quality

Photo by Ajithkumar M on Unsplash

Malaria’s in the news, because we’ve seen cases in the US transmitted on our own soil, not carried in by a traveler–the cases totalling eight so far. Worldwide, it’s still a scourge, afflicting almost 250 million people every year, killing about 600,000.

We know that the carrier is the mosquito, or “little fly” in Spanish. The tiny guys (and gals) of various species carry four different types of protozoans; the most dangerous is plasmodium falciparum, which basically means a plasma, or smeary liquid, made up of sickle-shaped cells.

The word malaria’s history is interesting in its simplicity. It’s just what it looks like: bad (mal) air (aria). People used to think the fetid air around marshes caused what they called “marsh fever.” Nobody knew to blame the skeeters.

In around 1880, Charles Louis Alphonse Laveran, a French army doctor, spotted the culpable organisms swimming in patients’ red blood cells and received the 1907 Nobel Prize for the discovery. Quinine and then chloroquine (remember that?) were found to be effective treatments. In 1898 other scientists found that mosquitoes were helping the plasmodia get around.

Wikipedia shares this cheerful bit of information: “In total, malaria may have killed 50-60 billion people throughout history, or about half of all humans that have ever lived.”

Bad air, indeed.

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8 Responses to Bad Air Quality

  1. Kathy says:

    Ros–I think this is in the Wikipedia article. It makes sense that natural remedies have been around, because malaria is thousands of years old.

  2. Kathy says:

    Michael–Clever is right. And using the sun is so low tech (though I guess the patch isn’t).

  3. Kathy says:

    Roger–Right, COVID is another “bad air” disease, as we recognized tardily. A friend of mine started wearing a mask very early, noting that Chinese people wear masks pretty routinely, and COVID wasm
    t their first rodeo.

  4. Kathy says:

    I thought of you as I was writing this, Fran, and hoped you would read and maybe respond. The history of the malaria research is very interesting. I count at least three Nobel Prizes (in my deep dive into Wikipedia)>

  5. Rosalind Gauchat says:

    I can’t find the article, but artemisia (wormwood) has been used both in Asia and Africa for treating malaria. Just to add to the list!

  6. Michael Whitely says:

    A family of scientist/inventors, somewhere down the East coast of Australia have been doing some clever things. One of them invented a UV patch, so they set up a charity and headed off to Cambodia, where they teach people to wash plastic bottles, scoop up polluted water from a swamp or a puddle, apply the patch then place the bottle out in the sun. When enough UV light has been absorbed to kill the bugs the patch changes from pink to black. The villagers say they don’t have stomach aches any more.

  7. Roger Talbott says:

    Having just been to the doctor this morning, I envy your ability to decode medical language. Another observation: apparently the “bad air” hypothesis was applied to a lot of things. As I understand it, it was hard for the medical establishment to admit that COVID wasn’t spread by surface contamination but by airborne viruses. Thus, we have all these clean surface protocols, which may or may not be a bad thing, since cleaners often use solutions that kill 99% of microbes. The other 1% are, of course, resistant.
    At any rate, earlier masking might have saved lives.

  8. Fran Lissemore says:

    Yay science!
    Humans went from thinking “bad air” caused a disease then after, no doubt, lots of observation and trial and error, Monsieur Laveran saw those Plasmodium beasties. Imagine that, the more information you get the more your knowledge changes. Wow.

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