Dr Watson solves the Malayan malaria mystery

T he word' malaria was first used in The 18th century and comes from the Italian mala aria-or bad air - because it was thought to be caused by unwholesome air in swampy districts. It was not until 1899 that Dr Ronald Ross, a medical officer in Panama during the construction of the canal, discovered that the real culprit was not the air, but the swamp inhabitant themselves –mosquito. The following year a young Scotsman, Dr Malcolm Watson, was appointed as a government medical officer in Malaya, where malaria was the biggest killer Dr Watson was posted to Klang where a malarial epidemic was wreaking havoc. In September 1901 nearby Port Swettenham (now Port klang) opened for business, by Christmas 118 out of the 176 government employees had been struck down by the disease.

Armed with the knowledge of the recent Panama discovery or Dr Watson set about draining the coastal swamplands spraying them and reproving the water-flow in streams it worked, and the doctor became known as the White Knight of Malaria Control Historian Mary Turnbull writes that "it was sold of Watson that 'he could probably have d aimed to have saved more lives that, any other physician in history, and Ronald Rot s described his work in Malaya as the are greatest sanitary achievement ever accomplished in the British Empire' . methods used n his battle against the nyamuk - the menacing and almost onomatopoeic Malay word for mosquito became standard practice in the colony, combined with the increased use of quinine was controlled, which is on of the reason colonial Malaya Plantation economy began to take off in the early 1900s. The planting of rubber estates in the coastal lowlands-greatly encouraged by the zealous director off Singapore’s Botanic, Gardens, Mod’ Henry Ridley- would otherwise have been a much more hazardous occupation.

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This is not a problem in main cities but it is advisable to take malaria pills if you going to rural areas. Malaria is more prevalent in East Malaysia, particularly is jungled interior of Sabah. It remains a serious disease and you are advised to protect yourself against mosquito bites as above and to take prophylactic (preventative) drugs. Start taking the tablets a few days before exposure and continue to take them 6 weeks after leaving the malaria zone. Remember to give the drugs to baby children, pregnant women also.

The subject of malaria prevention is becoming more complex as the malaria p, becomes immune to some or the older drugs. In particular, there has been an increase the proportion of cases of falciparum malaria which are resistant to the normally used drugs. It would not be an exaggeration to say that we are near to the situation where some cases of malaria will be untreatable with presently available drugs.

Take the a of a reputable agency on prophylaxis but be prepared to receive conflicting advice. because of the rapidly changing situation in me Southeast Asian region, the names and dosage of the drugs have not been included. But Chloroquine and Proguanil may still be recommended for the areas where malaria is still fully sensitive. Doxycyline, Metloquine and Quinghaosu are presently being used III re, areas. Halofantrine Quinine and tetracycline drugs remain the mainstays of treatment.

It is still possible to watch malaria even when taking prophylactic drugs ,although this is unlikely it you do develop symptoms (high fever, shivering, severe head and sometimes diarrhoea) tees medical advice immediately. The risk if the disease is obviously greater the further you move from into rural areas, with facilities and standing water.

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