Monday potpourri: maps, malaria in the USA, cholera in Dunedin and vaccines

By Grant Jacobs 07/12/2009

A collection of interesting titbits to lighten up a mundane Monday evening…

Malaria in Eastern USA in 1870 (Source Library of Congress digital maps collection, via Mystery Rays from Outer Space)
Malaria in Eastern USA in 1870 (Source Library of Congress digital history collection, via Mystery Rays from Outer Space)

I love maps, new and old. They’re great things to explore.

Ian York at Mystery rays from Outer Space has great map of the incidence of malaria in the USA in 1870.

It’s a great reminder of how common this disease was in the USA 130-odd years ago. The scale of the colours are increasing numbers of deaths per 10,000 citizens from all forms of malarial diseases, with the darkest red being ≥ 1400 per 10,000. That’s about 1 in 7 dying from malarial diseases. It’s just hard to imagine, isn’t it? The full-scale original can be accessed from Ian’s site. There’s a good comment about travelling to Michigan in the days of malaria that’s worth reading, too.

Late news (9th Dec 2009): Please see Ian’s website for an update this to story in his post Malaria and mosquitoes: Not 1908, not Cuba, which corrects a couple of errors from the material the BoingBoing take on this added. It seems the earliest connection of malaria to mosquitoes was earlier than some people think and not from Cuba! (Nice detective work, Ian.) Please do note, credit should go to Ian, not me. I just think this is a great map that linked a few thoughts together (below).

Ian’s post reminded me of an article I read some time ago by Charimian Smith, a long-time staff writer of the local Otago Daily Times. This same article has recently won the 2009 New Zealand Award for Excellence in Engineering Journalism.

It’s a great article, well worth reading even if you’re not from “Dunners”.

It sticks in the mind enough that Ian’s post reminded me of what she wrote of early Dunedin:

Early Dunedin, especially on the flat, was plagued by diseases such as typhoid and cholera because of lack of drainage and clean water.

Typhoid and cholera probably isn’t how most of us would think of New Zealand. (I believe the swamps of early Christchurch were pretty notorious too.)

Bangleshi child with smallpox (Source: wikipedia.)
Bangleshi child with smallpox (Source: wikipedia.)

One of the reasons that these stories strike a chord with me is that a common reason I see suggested for the popularity of anti-vaccine or “I don’t need a vaccine” views are that people today haven’t experienced diseases the way that our ancestors did.

I think these stories serve useful reminders.

In the particular cases in Dunedin, public health (in different ways) was the key thing making a difference. Irrespective of the preventative needed, it’s telling to be reminded of what things were once like, not all that long ago.

For infectious diseases like measles, pertussis (whooping cough), rubella, mumps and so on, vaccines are the key to preventing a return to the past when many of these diseases were commonplace.

Some of other entertainment or fun posts in Code for life:

Neti pots now validated as sound science?

Royal science

Snake coughs up new species

Craziest research paper titles, awards and authors

Visual illusions, change blindness and autism

Digital smiles

Monkey business, or is my uncle also my Dad?

Small world pictures

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