Tropical Terrors

A brief review of tropical diseases

Anopheles mosquito feeding.


Malaria has been around as long as man. In Roman times it was called "Roman Fever" and may have been partly responsible for the fall of the Roman Empire - even in World War II it was responsible for the deaths of  tens of thousands of American troops in the South Pacific and Northern Africa. In early Rome it was also called "mala aria", meaning "bad air", or "swamp fever", because it affected those who lived near the swamps. People long suspected that something in the air was responsible - but it was not until the 1700's that people began to suspect flies or mosquitoes as the cause. In 1902 Ronald Ross (of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene) won the Nobel Prize for uncovering how mosquitoes transmit malaria to humans.

The treatment of malaria started long before anyone even knew what caused it. Chinese medical literature as far back as the 4th Century recorded the use of a tea made from the Artemisia plant as a treatment for the illness. This plant with its almost-forgotten medicinal value has become the source of the latest drugs to fight malaria. The Quechua people of the Andes Mountains of Peru and Bolivia knew that the inner bark of the "fever tree" would produce a tea that would treat fevers. The early Jesuit missionaries realized that this was a treatment for malaria, and Cinchona - Quinine - was and still is a valuable medication in the war against malaria.

Where is malaria a problem? The following map shows countries in which malaria is found - but it is NOT necessarily found in all parts of each of these countries. Malaria tends to be a disease of rural forested areas - although it is a problem in almost all of India and Africa.

Malaria geographic distribution by country. 

Traveling to an area with malaria?

See the Centers for Disease Control web site for detailed information about avoiding malaria! It is important - especially if you plan on being outdoors in rural areas at night-time to take appropriate precautions. The traveler most at risk for malaria is the traveler on safari in Africa - where there is a serious malaria problem, and when there will be a lot of outdoor activity such as looking for lions and sitting around a campfire.