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Volume 6, Number 1—February 2000


From Shakespeare to Defoe: Malaria in England in the Little Ice Age

Paul ReiterComments to Author 
Author affiliation: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, San Juan, Puerto Rico

Main Article


Deaths per 1,000 per year in late 18th century England (17) and 20th century Nigeria (39)

Essex, England Garki, Nigeria
Age Nonmarsh Marsha Age Savanna
5 44 95.3 1-4 154
6-10 6.3 9.4 5-8 15
11-15 6.8 10.8 9-18 10
16-20 8.4 12.7 19-28 6

aThe high death rates in the marsh parishes are attributable to malaria and were actually lower than in the previous century during the peak of the Little Ice Age. Moreover, the Essex data are skewed because many of the marsh communities included predominantly men. The rate was similar to that measured in the 1970s by the World Health Organization in a malaria-endemic area of sub-Saharan Africa.

Main Article

1St. Thomas' Hospital (1213), in the Borough of Lambeth, was on the edge of the River Thames, surrounded by tidal marshes. Parliament met in two buildings at a similar site in the Borough of Westminster, directly across the river. Both areas were notoriously malarious. Centuries later, the American Founding Fathers followed British parliamentary procedure in choosing a site for their new nation's capital at the edge of a malarious swamp, later referred to as "A Mud-hole Equal to the Great Serbonian Bog." The Serbonian Bog probably refers to the vast flood plains of the Danube that border northern Serbia and Bulgaria. The Balkan region was the last major stronghold of malaria in Europe. Malaria was finally eliminated there in 1975.