n Acta Classica : Proceedings of the Classical Association of South Africa - Malaria in Graeco-Roman times

Volume 47, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0065-1141
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Malaria is an ancient disease caused by the &lt;I&gt;Plasmodium&lt;/I&gt; organism. Evidence shows that <I>P. falciparum&lt;/I&gt; causing malignant tertian malaria originated in Central Africa 165 million years ago and migrated towards the Mediterranean at the end of the last Ice Age. <I>P. vivax&lt;/I&gt; and <I>P. malariae&lt;/I&gt; causing more benign malaria probably originated in South-East Asia. In this study the occurrence of malaria in the Mediterranean region in Classical times is studied. Although no evidence of the typical malarial fever patterns can be found in the medical papyri of Ancient Egypt, modern DNA technology shows evidence of malarial infection in mummies of the third millennium BC. The writings of Hippocrates, Celsus and Galen in particular record descriptions of periodic fevers which correspond closely to the known varieties of malaria during Graeco-Roman times. Further evidence of malarial fevers in the literature of the period is reviewed and it is concluded that malaria was well established as a serious disease in the Eastern Mediterranean of the 5th century BC.

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