An Historical Sketch of the Prevalence of Malaria in North America

Mark F. BoydRockefeller Foundation; Station for Malaria Research, Tallahassee, Florida

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1. Pre-Columbian indigenous malaria

The question whether the early European conquerors and colonizers of the New World encountered malaria already established as an indigenous infection of the aboriginal population, or whether they, together with the subjugated Indians, were assailed by parasites introduced by the conquerors to the hospitality of American anophelines, is a subject of considerable interest, but at this date of little practical importance. Elucidation is difficult, for although illness and disease were two of the principal obstacles encountered, the deficiencies of medical knowledge of the times, together with the infrequency with which their characteristics came under the observation of medical men or even to the attention of keen lay observers, leave much to be desired in the available accounts.

If, as is generally believed at present, the aboriginal population of the Americas represent the descendents of various migratory bands of Asiatics which crossed Bering Straits, it is to be expected that their slow passage through cold and arid regions would have eliminated any plasmodia with which their ancestors may have been infected in Asia (Childs, 1940).