Vector Control, Saving Lives

Timeline of vector-borne disease

323 BC: Alexander the Great dies, very likely of malaria.

AD 71-79: When invading Scotland, the Roman army loses over 40,000 men, more than half the soldiers, to malaria.

11C and 12C: French- and German-born popes die of malaria.

1647-1650: Yellow fever is brought from Africa to Barbados on the slave ships. Wealthy white settlers on the island have no immunity to the disease. Six thousand of them die during an outbreak lasting several years. Read more…

1742: When the British send a 12,000 strong army to take Cartagena, Colombia more than half of them die of mosquito-borne disease.

1793: When ships arrived from the West Indies, residents of Philadelphia, USA, are struck down with an outbreak of yellow fever during a long hot summer. About 5,500 inhabitants die before winter begins when the mosquitos can no longer survive.

1800s: Local populations in Africa and Asia enjoy immunity to yellow fever and malaria, but the same cannot be said for European explorers and soldiers. In the quest for dominion and colonial power, many thousands of them perish.

1802: The French send 29,000 soldiers and sailors to regain Haiti. Only 6,000 return, defeated. The Haitians have immunity to yellow fever, while the French do not. French losses caused by yellow fever outnumber those caused by warfare.

1830s-1880s: Europeans begin to associate good health with cleanliness. Efforts to improve public sanitation mean mosquitos cannot breed as easily and malaria and yellow fever begin to reduce. No one knows the connection between mosquitos and disease.

1881: Initial attempts to build the Panama Canal result in spectacular failure: mosquito-borne disease causes the death of thousands of workers, costs investors the equivalent of $3 billion and ruins the reputation of French hero, Ferdinand de Lesseps.

1897: Young British scientist Ronald Ross is the first person to demonstrate that the malaria parasite enters the human blood stream through a mosquito bite.  The mosquito is not just an insect; it is a vector of disease.


1900: Following Ross’s discovery entomologists worldwide begin to plot military style attacks on the mosquito. One of the most aggressive and successful campaigns takes place in New Jersey, USA under the command of a man called John Smith. 
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1904: The USA, under President Theodore Roosevelt, takes over work on the Panama Canal. William Crawford Gorgas is a hero for eliminating yellow fever in Cuba, largely by breaking the chain of infection and reducing mosquito breeding grounds. He is hired to eliminate yellow fever and malaria from the canal zone.

1930: In Brazil, entomologist Raymond C. Shannon finds a mosquito - Anopheles gambiae - a malaria vector. It probably arrived from West Africa on a destroyer ship used to deliver mail. World travel has opened up possibilities for vectors to move across countries and continents.

1943: DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-tichloroethane) is invented. An insecticide used initially to de-louse prisoners and refugees of World War II and therefore fight typhus outbreaks, the eradication of mosquitos becomes a real possibility. The battle against malaria is declared almost won.

1958: DDT is shipped to countries in the Southern hemisphere struggling with mosquito-borne disease. The urgency of the matter requires total commitment and loyalty from everyone in the field of tropical medicine. Time is of the essence as mosquitos develop resistance to DDT quickly.

1962: US scientist, Rachel Carson publishes Silent Spring; a powerfully written book arguing that DDT is not safe. The reaction is immediate in several US states: DDT is banned. A nation-wide ban follows ten years later.