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