US Malaria Deaths, 1870
While malaria still kills over 1 million people each year, most of those deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa—the United States has been free of the disease since 1951. In the 19th century, however, malaria was extremely common within the United States, with over 1 million cases reported during the Civil War alone. The map below depicts deaths from malaria in 1870—10 years before the malaria parasite was even discovered.
#1 - Believed to have been brought to the Americas by Europeans in the late 1600s, malaria primarily impacted those in the Southeast and port cities, but extended as far north as the Dakotas, says Margaret Humphreys, a history of medicine professor at Duke University.
#2 - Of the five species of the Plasmodium parasite that can cause malaria, P. falciparum and P. vivax were the most common in the United States. “The malaria that is shown here north of the Mason-Dixon Line was likely vivax malaria,” Humphreys says, which “can hide out in the liver and re-emerge later, causing relapses.”
#3 - During the Civil War, the presence of malaria in the United States skyrocketed, killing some 10,000 Union soldiers annually during the war. The war brought “hordes of men into the swampy areas of the coastal south and along the major rivers”—such as the Mississippi, James, and Potomac—”who then took the parasite home with them,” says Humphreys.
#4 - In 1946, the Communicable Disease Center (today’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC) was created in Atlanta, Georgia, with the primary focus of eliminating malaria from the South. Through a variety of efforts, including draining swamps, removing mosquito breeding sites, and spraying pesticides, malaria was considered eradicated from the United States within just 5 years.