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Malaria Paradoxes of the U.S. Civil War

G. Dennis ShanksAustralian Defence Force Malaria and Infectious Disease Institute, Enoggera, Queensland, Australia;
School of Public Health, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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ABSTRACT.

The U.S. Civil War (1861–1865) pre-dated modern understanding of malaria. Yet, malarial diseases (remittent fever, intermittent fever, typho-malarial fever) were frequently reported as causes of morbidity and mortality in soldiers. Modern readers find Civil War-era descriptions of malaria contradictory or paradoxical. For example, although the concept of race-specific immunity to tropical diseases was widely accepted, malaria mortality rates were reportedly more than three times higher among Black than White Union soldiers (16/1,000/year versus 5/1,000/year). Also, malaria rates were reportedly lower among prisoners of war at the infamous Andersonville, GA, prison camp than among Confederate soldiers in the same area. Literally tons of quinine were given prophylactically to Union soldiers deployed in the southern United States, but blackwater fever was not reported by medical officers. All three paradoxes have reasonable modern explanations that give credence to the astute clinical observations of our scientific predecessors during the U.S. Civil War.

Author Notes

Address correspondence to G. Dennis Shanks, Australian Defence Force Malaria and Infectious Disease Institute, Enoggera, QLD 4051, Australia. E-mail: dennis.shanks@defence.gov.au

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Australian Defence Force or the U.S. Department of Defense.

Author’s addresses: G. Dennis Shanks, Australian Defence Force Malaria and Infectious Disease Institute, Enoggera, QLD, Australia, and School of Public Health, University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD, Australia. E-mail: dennis.shanks@defence.gov.au.

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