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Posts Tagged ‘mosquito

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito”*…

 

mosquito

 

A month after the opening salvos of the American Revolution at Lexington and Concord in April 1775, the newly appointed commander in chief of the Continental Army, George Wash­ington, had a request for his political masters in the Continental Con­gress. He urged them to buy up as much cinchona bark and quinine powder as possible. Given the dire financial pressures of the squabbling colonial government, and the dearth of pretty much everything needed to fight a war, his total allotment was a paltry 300 pounds. General Washington was a frequent visitor to the quinine chest as he suffered from recurrent bouts (and reinfection) of malaria since first contracting the disease in 1749 at the age of seventeen.

Luckily for the Americans, the British were also drastically short of Peruvian Spanish-supplied quinine throughout the war. In 1778, shortly before they entered the fray in support of the American cause, the Spanish cut off this supply completely. Any available stores were sent to British troops in India and the Caribbean. At the same time, the mosquito’s mer­ciless, unrelenting strikes on unseasoned British troops lacking quinine during the final British southern campaign — launched in 1780 with the capture of Charleston, the strategic port city and mosquito sanctuary­ — determined the fate of the United States of America.

As J. R. McNeill colorfully contours, ‘The argument here is straight­forward: In the American Revolution the British southern campaigns ultimately led to defeat at Yorktown in October 1781 in part because their forces were much more susceptible to malaria than were the American. . . . [T]he balance tipped because Britain’s grand strategy committed a larger proportion of the army to malarial (and yellow fever) zones.’ A full 70% of the British Army that marched into this southern mosquito maelstrom in 1780 was recruited from the poorer, famished regions of Scotland and the northern counties of England, outside the malaria belt of Pip’s Fenland marshes. Those who had already served some time in the colonies had done so in the northern zone of infection and had not yet been seasoned to American malaria.

General Washington and the Continental Congress, on the other hand, had the advantage of commanding acclimated, malaria-seasoned colonial troops. American militiamen had been hardened to their sur­roundings during the Seven Years’ War and the turbulent decades head­ing toward open hostilities against their king. Washington personally recognized, albeit short of scientific affirmation or medical endorsement, that with his recurrent malarial seasonings, ‘I have been protected be­yond all human probability or expectation.’ While they did not know it at the time, this might well have been the Americans’ only advantage over the British when, after twelve years of seething resentment and discontent since the passing of the Royal Proclamation [of 1763 that prohibited land sales to colonists], war suddenly and unexpectedly came.

The Americans’ secret weapon– an excerpt from Timothy C. Winegard’s Mosquito: A Human History of of our Deadliest Predator: “George Washington, Mosquitoes, and the American Revolution.”

[via the ever-illuminating Delanceyplace.com]

* Dalia Lama XIV

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As we douse ourselves in DEET, we might recall that it was on this date in 1781– before the fall of Yorktown, but after a decisive week of fighting– that General George Washington wrote to the President of the Continental Congress to give an account of the recent action.  Three days later the Siege of Yorktown (as it became known) ended with the surrender of British forces under General Cornwallis.  It was the final major land battle of the Revolutionary War; the capture of Cornwallis and his army prompted the British government to negotiate an end to the conflict.

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Surrender of Lord Cornwallis, by John Trumbull

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“I lit a thin green candle to make you jealous of me, but the room just filled up with mosquitoes”*…

 

NewYorker_Mosquito_Vertical_v5

 

It turns out that, if you’re looking for them, the words “mosquitoes,” “fever,” “ague,” and “death” are repeated to the point of nausea throughout human history. (And before: … when the asteroid hit, dinosaurs were already in decline from mosquito-borne diseases.) Malaria laid waste to prehistoric Africa to such a degree that people evolved sickle-shaped red blood cells to survive it. The disease killed the ancient Greeks and Romans—as well as the peoples who tried to conquer them—by the hundreds of thousands, playing a major role in the outcomes of their wars. Hippocrates associated malaria’s late-summer surge with the Dog Star, calling the sickly time the “dog days of summer.” In 94 B.C., the Chinese historian Sima Qian wrote, “In the area south of the Yangtze the land is low and the climate humid; adult males die young.” In the third century, malaria epidemics helped drive people to a small, much persecuted faith that emphasized healing and care of the sick, propelling Christianity into a world-altering religion…

In total… mosquitoes have killed more people than any other single cause—fifty-two billion of us, nearly half of all humans who have ever lived. [They are] “our apex predator,” “the destroyer of worlds,” and “the ultimate agent of historical change.”…

They slaughtered our ancestors and derailed our history– and they’re not finished with us yet: “How Mosquitoes Changed Everything.”

* Leonard Cohen

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As we nestle under our nets, we might spare a thought for Girolamo Fracastoro; he died on this date in 1553.  A physician, poet, and scholar of mathematics, geography, and astronomy, he he proposed (in 1546) that epidemic diseases are caused by transferable tiny particles or “spores” that could transmit infection by direct or indirect contact or even without contact over long distances; he called these infectious agents fomes, from the Latin, meaning tinder.  His theory was influential for three centuries, until it was sufficiently refined and extended to become modern germ theory, which superseded Fracastoro’s model.

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Girolamo Fracastoro, by Titian c. 1528

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Written by LW

August 6, 2019 at 1:01 am

“The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men”*…

 

In 2015, more than 1.5 million people were killed by animals. That’s a startling figure. To put it in perspective, that’s about the same number of people who died from HIV/AIDS or diabetes last year.

Some of the culprits are the usual suspects of the animal kingdom. Lions, for instance, with their incredible ability to stalk prey, are responsible for the deaths of about 100 people. Hippos, very territorial, are more dangerous, claiming about 500 lives. Crocodiles are even more deadly, killing 1,000 people.

But take a look at this interactive chart [a portion of which is excerpted above] and you might be surprised to learn that the heavyweights of the animal kingdom do the least damage. Pound for pound, a shark isn’t that scary compared with many smaller creatures on the list…

The relative numbers of people killed by different animals:  Bill Gates explains “Why I’d Rather Cuddle with a Shark than a Kissing Bug.”

* Alice Walker

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As we slather on the DEET, we might recall that it was on this date in 1938 that Mary Mallon– “Typhoid Mary”– died of a stroke on North Brother Island, where she he had been quarantined since 1915.  She was the first person in the United States identified as an asymptomatic carrier of the pathogen associated with typhoid fever… before which, she inadvertently spread typhus for years while working as a cook in the New York area.

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Written by LW

November 11, 2016 at 1:01 am

“I never quite envisioned myself a proper doctor under that white coat”*…

 

The Agnew Clinic” by Thomas Eakin, 1889

Toward the end of the 19th century, Western medicine had an image problem. Joseph Lister’s ideas about antiseptics were spreading, and John Snow had made a breakthrough in mapping the spread of cholera. But to the public, most medical “cures” were little more than quackery and mysticism, and the appearance of a physician merely presaged a painful death.

At the same time, the reputation of science was in rapid ascendancy. The Industrial Revolution was transforming the towns and cities of Europe and America, and new breakthroughs were reported on a weekly basis in more than a thousand different scientific journals.

So the medical establishment did a costume change. Doctors dropped their traditional black coats, which were worn either as a mark of formality (like a tuxedo) or to symbolize the solemnity of their profession, and instead opted for white coats like the ones worn by scientists in their laboratories…

Sartorial history at its most clinical: “Why the White Lab Coat Changed Medical History.”

* Robert Jay Lifton

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As we battle “white coat hypertension,” we might spare a thought for Sir Ronald Ross; he died on this date in 1932.  A physician, bacteriologist, and mathematician, he located the malarial parasite in the gut of the Anopheles mosquito, identifying it as the disease vector– for which he became the first British Nobelist, awarded the 1902 Prize for Physiology or Medicine.

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Written by LW

September 16, 2016 at 1:01 am

“The best blood will at some time get into a fool or a mosquito”*…

 

Woman dressed as a mosquito at the Russian Mosquito Festival

Nine year old Irina Ilyukhina earned the title of “tastiest girl” last month at the Russian Mosquito Festival, an annual event held in Berezniki, a town in the Ural Mountains.  She and other contestants stood in shorts and vests for 20 minutes in a bug-infested wood; Irina’s winning total was 43 bites.

In 2013, the winner collected more than 100 mosquito bites; but unusually hot and dry weather in Berezniki diminished the insect population this year. Most years, attendees can participate in a mosquito hunt that rewards whomever can collect the most bugs in a glass jar; this year’s festival had to forgo the event.

More at “9-year-old wins ‘tastiest girl’ competition at annual Russian Mosquito Festival.”  C.f. also, The Great Texas Mosquito Festival, held annually in Clute, Texas.  (One notes that, Russia has confirmed just five cases of travel-related Zika in recent months, Texas has reported 125, and the United States as a whole, over 2,500.)

* Benito Mussolini

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As we slather on the DEET, we might spare a thought for Fredrick Kenneth Hare, CC OOnt FRSC; he died on this date in 2002.  One of Canada’s leading climatologists and environmentalists, he led both academic and political efforts to measure and stem the rise of atmospheric carbon dioxide, to mitigate climate change, and to prevent drought.

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Written by LW

September 3, 2016 at 1:01 am

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito”*…

 

Deep into the Dog Days of Summer, readers are likely struggling to beat the heat… and thinking defensively about those predatory pests-of-the-season, mosquitoes (or as Bill Gate’s calls the species, “the deadliest animal in the world“).  The little-bitty buzzers just keep on coming…  And perhaps most frustratingly, they seem to bother some of us much more than others.

Smithsonian runs down the surprisingly long list of reasons in “Why Do Mosquitoes Bite Some People More Than Others?”  (Spoiler alert:  while 85% of them are genetic, beer makes one a more attractive morsel to the little bloodsuckers.)  Happily, there is a prospect of some relief.

* Dalia Lama XIV

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As we splash on the DEET, we might recall that it was on this date in 1254 that the first known court case involving chess and violence was heard in Essex, England.  It dealt with a chess player who stabbed his opponent to death after losing.  But while this was the of relatively few such incidents to make it into the criminal justice system, chess violence was apparently pretty wide-spread– common enough to move French King Louis IX to ban chess.  And indeed, such violence continues to this day.

“The King is dead”

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Written by LW

August 16, 2014 at 1:01 am

Well, it’s true that they both react poorly to showers…

 

Randall Munroe (xkcd) riffs on the same chatbot-to-chatbot conversation featured here some days ago…

 

As we celebrate our essential humanity, we might recall that it was on this date in 1900 that Jesse Lazear, a then-34-year-old physician working in Cuba to understand the transmission of yellow fever, experimented on himself, allowing himself to be bitten by infected mosquitoes.  His death two weeks later confirmed that mosquitoes are in fact the carriers of the disease.

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