Friday, January 11, 2008

Walcheren Malaria

Things aren't always as they seem!

I like reading. I will read almost anything, but history is a particular leisure read. In the Wroxham library I found a book called, Redcoat by Richard Holmes. Richard is a well-know and well-respected writer of military history. He has made television programmes about battle and campaigns. He should know what he is talking about.

In truth it is not a very good book. In attempting to discuss the British Army from about 1750 to 1890 he jumps around, repeats himself and is trying to be too clever in the organisation. He attempts to bring the material together thematically but is not averse to dispensing with this scheme when the mood strikes him.

In any event, when discussing some minor military engagement against the French (our natural enemies) he informs the reader that during the invasion of Belgium in 1809 – the purpose of which was to remove Bonaparte from a position where he could seriously affect British naval interests and remove the French from the Belgian coast, particularly the island of Walcheren in the Scheldt estuary (the approach to the port of Antwerp); Richard writes about the disaster which ensued. Apparently the troops, after initially meeting with success, succumbed to malaria and many died, whilst the rest took ship for dear old Blighty. Not the greatest military engagement of the 19th century. That would have to wait for 1815 and the field of Waterloo.

What struck me was the matter-of-fact way Holmes described malaria in what is, after all a Northern European country.

I didn't know that.

I think I vaguely knew that malaria was sometimes found in Southern Europe and North Africa. Sicily has had malaria. So, occasionally does Greece. So did the poor old Romans, though it didn't stop them from conquering the world.

I'm just not sure what the travel advice is: do you need to take anti-malarial precautions if you go to Greece or Sicily?

This bears investigation.

Using the internet, I found some interesting stuff!

Did you know that people in Finland suffered from malaria? Bet you didn't. Don't believe me? Check this out!

“Endemic northern malaria reached 68°N latitude (just a bit south of Murmansk in Russia or Tromso in Norway and about the latitude of the Great Bear Lake in Northern Canada) in Europe during the 19th century, where the summer mean temperature only irregularly exceeded 16°C, the lower limit needed for sporogony of Plasmodium vivax. Because of the available historical material and little use of quinine, Finland was suitable for an analysis of endemic malaria and temperature.”

And, malaria was found in Sweden and Russia too. This is interesting, because when I first read this I thought, “Hang on a minute! Malaria is a tropical disease! If there was malaria in Northern Europe in the recent historical past, it must mean that the temperature was higher! Makes sense!”

Apparently not. For, in answering the question, “Where do mosquitoes go in the winter?”, the answer is: indoors to rest and wait for spring or summer. Makes sense when you think about it. If all the mosquitoes in Britain, Belgium, Norway, Sweden and Finland died every year, we wouldn't be plagued by the little stinkers every summer!

They don't. 99.99999% of them do, but a few survive by finding a warm, or warm-ish spot to hide in and re-emerge in the spring, reproduce like crazy and provide the next generation of blood-suckers.

Ain't Mother Nature wonderful!

Despite the fact that my investigation has not shed any real light on the global warming debate, as I had hoped, I intend to keep looking. I just have a feeling that malaria in Europe and North America must somehow be related to temperature. Although we know that mossies have no problem surviving in Northern Europe in the summer and breeding, what is less clear is why we no longer have outbreaks of malaria (even the much less virulent P. vivax) in Europe now.

If the planet is warming for whatever reason, it makes sense for malaria to become established again in Europe.

p.s. from our correspondent Willi in Finland:


From: "Wili"
Vora-Oravais-Maxmo Hogstadieskola, Finland
Subject: Low temp.record of the century in Finland!
Date: Wed, 27 Jan 1999 15:41:33 +0200

Hi all once again. I HAVE TO send you a mail to let you know that the lowest temperature of the century in Finland has been registered in a Village in northern Finland called Kittila; -51deg C.

I just spoke to the deliverer of my Davis weather station. He had reports that due to the low temperature and the low air pressure the car tyres have "frozen" in a square form, so the cars which still run behave like rabbits or kangaroos. The temperautre here in Vora is falling all the time.

With interest we look forward to next morning!

Have a warm night!! Best Regards...........Wili, Finland

Don't look much like warming to me!!

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