Death's agent

Historical ills

It has been hypothesised that the malarial parasite evolved either with humans or even earlier. Hippocrates wrote about it in the 5th century BC.

In India, Ayurvedic gurus' Charaka and Susruta related malaria to mosquito bites. For 2,000 years, the Chinese have been using extracts from the qinghaosu plant as a remedy. Around AD 1500, the Peruvian Indians used the bark of cinchona, from which quinine is extracted, as the cure.

The malaria parasite was discovered by Laveran in 1880 while the vector was determined in 1897 by Ross in Secundrabad.

Kala-azar appeared in the Garo Hills of Assam in 1863, from where it descended into the Ganga valley, taking epidemic proportions between 1890-1900. Bihar first reported the disease in 1882.

A kala-azar bushfire during 1917-1929 wreaked havoc in the eastern part of the Indian subcontinent. The disease was endemic till the NMEP programme checked it in the mid '60s.

Cholera has been endemic to the Ganga and Brahmaputra deltas since time immemorial. The first epidemiological record of cholera in the country dates to 1900, when the disease accounted for about 8 lakh deaths.

This Asian pestilence, Cholera Asiatica, moved out of its homeland in 1817 into Europe and America, causing the first pandemic. Since then, 7 pandemics have occurred, the last affecting 80 developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America in the early '90s.

Egyptian mummies reveal bone and joint TB infection as early as 5000 BC. The early Chinese named it Laoping. Pulmonary TB was described in India in 3000 BC and its cure is mentioned in the Rig Veda written in 2000 BC. It occurred in near-epidemic proportions in the rapidly urbanising and industrialising society of Europe and North America in the 18th and 19th centuries, becoming the leading cause of death till the early 20th century. After this, a decline was noticed because of improved health and hygiene conditions .

In 1882, German physician Robert Koch discovered the Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The advent of antibiotics in the post-World War II checked the spread of TB. And now it's back again.