We now know that a single-celled sporozoan of the Plasmodium genus causes malaria. It was discovered to be a parasite in 1880, by Alphonse Laveran, a French army surgeon in Algeria, and its transmission by the mosquito was first demonstrated in 1897 by Ronald Ross, a British officer in the Indian Medical Service. As you read this article you sense the struggle to understand the parts of the puzzle of this disease (and other diseases transmitted also by mosquitoes and bad hygiene). With our hindsight from 2011 we can quickly grasp that it is the terrain most favorable to mosquitoes that tends to be the most prone to malaria.
THE SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN’S ADVICE TO OUR SOLDIERS--MALARIA AND ITS REMEDIES
It is difficult for us to realize the fact, but we all know that any soldier is in five times more danger of dying from malarious disease than of being killed in battle.
WHERE MALARIA EXISTS
What malaria is nobody knows. It may consist of organisms, either animal or vegetable, too minute for even the microscope to detect or it may be some condition of the atmosphere in relation to electricity, or temperature, or moisture; or it may be a gas evolved in the decay of vegetable matter. The last is the most common hypothesis, but it is by no means proved, and it has some stubborn facts against it. There is no doubt, however, that malaria is some mysterious poison in the atmosphere, and that it is confined strictly to certain localities. It seems to favor valleys rather more than mountains; though the hills of Staten Island and the high lands about Greenwood Cemetery are as full of it as the Valley of the Mississippi. It is not a disease peculiarly of new countries. The region directly south of Rome, called the Campagna, is one of the most malarious localities in the world, and it was settled at least 700 years before the Christian era. On the other hand, the State of Rhode Island and the other parts of New England that are now free from malaria, were always free from it. The inhabitants of paved cities are almost entirely exempt from attacks of malaria. New York city is situated in a malarious district, and beyond the pavements fever and ague is common. In the fall before work was commenced on the Central Park the writer of this had occasion to enter all of the houses on that 700-acre tract of land, and in almost every one of them one or more of the inmates were suffering from fever and ague. In the paved portions of the city, however, the disease is seldom met with.
THE DIFFERENT FORMS OF MALARIOUS DISEASE
The mildest type of malarious disease is intermittent fever, called, at the West, dumb ague. It is the same as fever and ague, only that the fever is not preceded by a chill or followed by perspiration. Every one, two, or three days, usually at the same hour of the day, the patient experiences a moderate attack of fever, lasting an hour or two, and the rest of the time he feels about as well as usual.
The next type in severity is the most common form of the disease, the ordinary fever and ague. For an hour or more the patient is shivering and shaking with cold, frequently so violently as to make his teeth chatter ; and this is as likely to occur in the hottest part of the day as at any other time. Presently the chill subsides and is succeeded by a violent, burning fever, which lasts usually three or four hours, and is followed in the graver forms of the disease by a copious perspiration.
When the paroxysms of fever become so prolonged as to extend from one to the other, and occupy all of the time, the disease is called bilious fever. It still preserves its periodical character; at certain hours of the day the fever is less violent than at others; and some physicians describe it as remittent fever.
Occasionally in all malarious districts, and frequently in those which are most infected, bilious fever manifests congestion as one of its symptoms. This is an accumulation and stagnation of the blood in one of the organs, usually in the brain, though occasionally in the lungs. This is the terrible congestive fever of malarious districts one of the most dangerous diseases known. Nearly all of the passengers who died on their way to California, died of this disease, contracted during their detention on the Isthmus.