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Thursday October 30, 2014
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Ague in Ann Arbor

 

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From 1868 to 1882, forty-eight county residents died of malaria. Because the cold-tolerant strain that was likely prevalent here has a fatality rate of around 1 percent, thousands may have been infected. In 1887 the Ann Arbor Business Men's Association published a guide to Ann Arbor that declared, "The whole place is entirely free of malaria." But in fact, more than sixty years after Walter Oakman's death, many still suffered from the disease. That year, nearly every edition of the weekly Ann Arbor Courier carried an ad for Tutt's Pills--"In malarial districts their virtues are widely recognized, as they possess peculiar properties in freeing the system from that poison." A competing product, Ayer's Ague Cure, was advertised in the issue of August 3, 1887. Even ten years later--on June 4, 1897--the Ann Arbor Argus contained a large ad, headlined "Shakes," for Scott's Emulsion of Cod-Liver Oil with Hypophosphites, to combat "a genuine malarial chill."

By then, though, the worst was over. By 1890 large-scale cinchona cultivation was under way in Indonesia, making quinine much cheaper. And in 1897 British officer Ronald Ross made the discovery--for which he won a 1902 Nobel Prize--of the malarial role of the anopheles mosquito. Malaria, it turned out, was caused by the microparasite Plasmodium cycling between humans and mosquitoes. Though a vaccine remains elusive to this day, Ross's discovery showed how malaria could be controlled by draining mos-quito breeding sites and applying pesticides. With many of Michigan's wetlands already drained for agriculture, the infectious cycle was soon broken in Michigan.

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