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Saturday, February 05, 2011

Quinine and AC

Zoya is in the British West Indies and it got me to thinking about the Patrick O'Brian series and other historical novels I've read where when they get to the West Indies or West Africa half the crew inevitably dies of yellow fever, malaria or some nasty water born illness. In those days the tropics was a place one did not willingly go to for a vacation. These thoughts made me realize that the only reason the tropics became a popular destination in the 20th century was probably due to medical advances and air conditioning (maybe airplanes too). It was not until 1900 that scientists figured out that yellow fever was carried by mosquitoes, and that, and not advanced technological know how, is why Americans were finally able to build the Panama Canal.

In the old days people went to the tropics and sort of wasted away. The heat sapped their strength and eventually they usually got some sort of fever. Most of the colonial inhabitants were generally partially disabled with malaria - life was short in the tropics.

An interesting tidbit is that gin and tonics were developed by the British as a palatable way to drink bitter quinine. At that time Quinine was the only thing going for malaria.

It's funny because today I think we take air conditioning and advanced medical care for granted. We think nothing of going to the tropics and lying on a beach knowing that we're not going to die of a fever and that we can always get cool if we want to. Another funny thing is that I gather Yellow Fever and Malaria are making a comeback. ... Or rather that's not so funny, but is good food for thought. Patrick


Molly Odell said...

One thing I always appreciate about Alaska, even if the mosquitoes are terrible, is that there are are no freaky insect-borne diseases!

When we were in Ecuador a couple of years ago, we chose not to take anti-malaria medication because we were only planning to spend 2-3 days in a potential malaria area. My doctor thought that since we would be in a city for those 2-3 days we would probably be fine, as long as we stayed in a hotel with air conditioning. Of course, we ended up being fine, but I was TERRIFIED every time I heard a mosquito buzzing at night - it was hard to sleep!

rob's uncle said...

‘ . . [the Cuban physician] Dr Carlos Juan Finlay . . correctly surmised that it was not the worsened “miasma”, but rather the peak in the population of the female mosquito, Stegomyia fasciata or Aedes aegypti (Finlay referred to it as the Culex mosquito), during the hot, wet summer months that sparked the epidemics.

In 1881, Finlay presented his results in The Annals of the Academy of Medical, Physical, and Natural Sciences of Havana. The medical community scoffed at the notion of human-to-human transmission via mosquito inoculation, incredulous that such a tiny insect could be responsible for so many deaths. History records that his early supporters included only his loyal and gifted Trinidadian wife, Adela Shine, and his Cuban physician disciple, Claudio Delgado.

Over the next twenty years, Finlay extended his clinical observations and conducted human studies to prove his hypothesis . . ’

Medicine in Stamps - Carlos Juan Finlay (1833-1915): of mosquitoes and yellow fever.
Tan SY, MD, JD and Sung H, MD; Singapore Med J 2008; 49 (5) : 370.