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New book Shifts View on Malaria

Updated on August 1, 2012

Growing up in suburban Midwest America, malaria was about as foreign as the plague. The topic of history class, the disease conjured up images of workers digging the panama canal and sub African children sleeping under mosquito netting.

But a new book titled The Fever: How Malaria Shaped History by Sonia Shah, changed all that. A first generation immigrant from India, Shah saw first hand her grandmother's preparations for her summers in the heat.

Personal recollections aside, Shah brought home the menace and mystery of the

disease, its determined survival instinct - slinking and morphing from one

region or climate or host to another - all the while beating back pesticide

after potion designed for its demise.

Starting in early history, Shah talks about the settlement of Rome, African

slaves with some natural immunity taken from their homeland, their familiar

strains of the disease and brought into new environments and death.and the disease's impact of settlement and war in this world.

Before acquiring this book, the background noise of middle America such as mosquito abatement districts which that dot America, and the origins of the Center for Disease Control (which started out to address malaria in America) didn't raise an eyebrow.

Did anyone ever truly take note that famous folks from Cesaer to Oscar

Wilde to Marconi struggled through bouts of the fever; Thousands of

scientists from altruist medical men ; to business people trying to create access to

otherwise unreachable oil, to military men spraying the controversial chemical DDT, fought the disease only to fail.

In discussing the use in the 1950s and 1960s of DDT, Shah notes fewer have died because of the chemical pesticide which built as it crawled up the food chain than those who could have been saved with it.

While Shah’s book addresses the past, it puts the current and future into perspective.

A blast from the internet source Huffington Green Post July 31 noted as mosquito-bourne illnesses like West Nile are expanding in our globally-warmed climate of flood and drought are on the rise. And in response so is the use of psticidal sprays. And it appears that again, the mosquito carried fever is winning.

Soldiers in two world wars and throughout Africa and Asia sprayed, drained and attempted to prevent the disease which downed more troops than enemy fire.

And yet without the cache of AIDS with its world audience or the celebrities who

publically stand against cancer, malaria continues on. In a world which is eradicating smallpox and polio, this most primitive and silent killer lives on, shape shifting constantly to prevent extinction.

Shah supposes the fever, bloated organs and malaise that malaria generates

condemn third world countries to low worker output, high infant mortality and an

inability to rise above the poverty that surrounds them. With men to sick to

dig, fresh wells with clean water aren't dug. With women tending sick children,

or stuck in a system which encourages high child counts to offset death, barely feed and cloth those they have. Children are too sick to attend schools and teachers too sick to teach.

And while a particularly lethal type of S affects only 10 percent of those

infected, it kills almost all.

Malaria, it seems, enjoys irony. When a family member becomes ill, family members are only taken on the grueling trip to a hospital when they are beyond hope. So to those who may travel 100 miles on foot, places of western medicine are where you go to die.

Preventives are expensive, often adulterated and sometimes applied to strains

for which they are ineffective. Thus again, the most vulnerable populations

trust least because they have seen small effect.

And with no end in sight, Shah proposes warriors and businesses drive this fight.

Malaria research, she claims, is driven when business, such as big oil, chooses to work in a location in which the disease compromises the work force. In that case preventatives, treatments and health care and enforced. However, assistance often is only confined to areas in which the chosen few are located. Indigenous populations are usually allowed to fend for themselves.

On example she cites is of residences near dams built to contain rivers, create lakes and run hydroelectrical plants.

In the 1800s, as America learned to harness the power of water, they flooded plains, blocked the type of water movement that eliminated mostquito eggs and provided putrid vegetation that breeds the type of mosquito which most frequently carries malaria. When river-side residents sued for damages causes by the malaria which followed the backed up water, the U.S. courts found in favor of the dam builders.

Only the surge in other energy sources reversed the trend. As farmers drained water from areas to plant, and created drainage systems now long forgotten, malaria left the United States and Europe.

And while the book may give you pause, you'll never look at a backyard mosquito the same way.


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