Malaria was a huge cause of death and might even be the “greatest killer of humanity of all time”. This deadly disease is caused by a microscopic parasite. There are four different types of the malaria parasite: Plasmodium vivax, Plasmodium falciparum, Plasmodium malariae, and Plasmodium ovale. Malaria causes intense fever, chills, awful headaches, muscle pains, and even death. Each malaria patient can transfer the disease to hundreds of other people. Malaria is contracted by being bitten by a mosquito that is carrying the disease. It is transferred from the mosquito to another person through their blood.
Eventually scientists began searching for a cure. They eventually stumbled upon quinine, an alkaloid found in the bark of the cinchona tree. The cinchona tree is found high up in the Andes. Interestingly enough, this tree was actually named after a countess that survived malaria due to its bark. Through the years cinchona trees were used to treat indigestion, fever, cancer, hair loss, and several other illnesses.
Unfortunately, over 25,000 cinchona trees were being cut down every year. This caused the trees to become endangered. Quinine needed to be isolated to avoid extinction. Eventually Joseph Pelletier and Joseph Caventou were able to extract and purify quinine (C20H24N2O2). The structure of quinine is two molecules of allyltoluidine and oxygen. Quinine was then synthesized and chloroquine was created. However, certain strains of chloroquine-resistant malaria spread and chloroquine was no longer effective.
Scientists then discovered that the best was to prevent malaria was to go to the source and kill the mosquitos that carried the disease. A powerful insecticide, DDT, was created. DDT works by interfering with a nerve control process unique to insects. This is why it is harmless to humans and other animals. DDT was by far the most effective preventions of malaria.
Malaria affected history in a huge way. This horrible disease caused thousands of deaths including the deaths of some important people. For example, Alexander the Great and the African explorer David Livingstone contracted malaria and later died from it. Armies were also greatly affected by malaria. Over half of the troops in the American Civil War suffered from this disease. Even Napoleon’s army was affected. The outcome of wars might have been affected by malaria. Who knows what would have happened if there had been a cure or prevention against this disease earlier in history. Malaria brought down great leaders and killed countless others. Because of malaria, a whole species of trees almost became extinct. Without malaria history could be completely different. It’s amazing how one disease could have such a profound effect on the history of the world.