Malaria comes to the Americas
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More about Malaria

Cinchona bark
Cinchona bark - where quinine comes from

September 2016 - When European invaders came to North America and South America in the 1500s AD, some of them had malaria, and American mosquitoes caught the disease by biting these sick people. Then in the 1700s when British slave traders forced many African people to come to North America and South America as slaves, they also brought malaria with them. Along with smallpox and measles, malaria was one of the diseases that killed most of the people who lived in North America - the Chinook, the Iroquois, the Cherokee, and other groups. But in Peru, Quechua doctors cured malaria with quinine made from the bark of the cinchona tree.

Big rice fields in the southern colonies helped mosquitoes to breed. Gradually many places in both North and South America were infested with malaria, and by the 1750s many people in the Americas caught it. By 1850 there was malaria all over both North and South America. If you've read the Little House books, malaria is what Laura and Mary had when they had "fever and ague", and quinine is the bitter medicine the African-American doctor gave the girls. We still use quinine today as well.


Get a malaria net and be safe!

By the middle of the 1900s, malaria became less common in the northern half of the world (North America, Europe, Russia and northern China). This was mainly because, thanks to the use of gasoline engines in tractors and farm machinery, most people lived in cleaner, less crowded places, and most people did not live or work on farms anymore. But in the southern half of the world (Central and South America, Africa, India, and south-east Asia), malaria is still killing more than a million people every year, most of them children. Global warming caused by people burning oil is helping mosquitoes to spread malaria to places where it wasn't a problem before, so we can expect malaria to be even more of a problem in the future.

Smallpox
Bubonic plague (with pictures)
Measles
Main medicine page
Main science page

Bibliography and further reading about malaria:


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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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