Material for this article on malaria comes from Sgts. Mack Morriss at Guadalcanal; Pete Paris, North Africa; Dave Richardson, New Guinea; Merle Miller, Hawaii, Bill O’Hollaren, Puerto Rico; and Cpls. R.L. Boyce, Australia, and Dick Paul, Washington.

wwii american GI malaria

The marines who first landed on Guadalcanal had to fight malaria, too. These men were among those who were hit by the sickness on that island.

The average man in the Army, Navy and Marines stationed in the Temperate or Tropic Zone overseas faces as serious an enemy as the Axis in malaria, the disease whose lines may be broken but never completely wiped out.

This dread disease, not often fatal but too often causing casualties that overtax hospitals and weaken the fighting forces, is spread by female mosquitoes. About 60 kinds of these mosquitoes are known, but the lady who is most attracted to soldiers is known to medicine as the Anopheles.

Armies have been defeated in some wars by malaria. Recently there has been talk that atabrine, the little white pill developed by the Germans as a substitute for quinine, had malaria licked. But this isn’t so. Atabrine helps control malaria, but it doesn’t keep the soldier from being bitten by malaria-bearing mosquitoes. And it doesn’t prevent mosquitoes from breeding.

When medics move into a malarial area, they immediately hunt up swamps and stagnant-water pools and drain or oil them. They spray insecticides wherever mosquitoes may hide. They screen buildings. Then they go to the hospitals and wait for customers. For despite all the precautions, some soldiers are going to get malaria. Those who have had it once will do damned near anything to keep from getting it a second time. The greenhorns, however, have to learn the hard way.

The hard way starts when the soldier doesn’t keep from getting bitten. Since the lady Anopheles is strictly a night prowler, smart GIs roll down their sleeves at sundown, cover up legs, hands and faces with clothing, even on guard duty. And then when bunking for the night, they take careful precautions, using a mosquito net.

This indispensable piece of equipment is a net rigged over a cot by means of poles, T-crosses or any other handy aid, and carefully tucked under the blanket or whatever is used as a mattress. But by the time this job is finished, there are usually at least a dozen mosquitoes prowling around inside the netting. So the first job is to get rid of these uninvited guests by a game called “Ack Ack.”

A flashlight is held between both feet and maneuvered like an AA spotlight. When a mosquito is caught in the beam of light, the hands come up and smash the mosquito, If you inspect your hands and find a dead mosquito you have a “confirmed victory.” If you know you got the critter but can’t prove it, it’s only a “probably.”

Once this battle is ended, you lie back and are lulled to sleep by the drone of the recons who circle the net all night. If in your sleep you get your arm or knee against the net, these recons put out an immediate alarm and starts shooting through the netting. You wind up with malaria.

You must also be on guard against trickery.

Our New Guinea correspondent reports cases out there where mosquitoes, unable to penetrate the net, perch on top of the netting and shout “Free beer,” and when the sleeper sticks out his head to see what goes on, they let him have it.

The New Guinea report also says: “Mosquitoes out here are both monstrous and minute. They are big enough to make you want to dive for a slit trench when they buzz the field yet small enough to penetrate the finest mosquito bar. The females are armored with a hypo needle similar in size to that used by the medics and equally dull. When the needle is plunged to its hilt, the skeeter is standing on her head. She then starts the pump and doesn’t shut off her motor until at least three big drops of your blood have been drawn and she is full as a GI on pay night.”

wwii american GI malaria

Malaria works this way:

Some person who has malaria, or who is a “carrier,” gets bitten by a hungry lady mosquito. (For some reason, the male mosquitoes can bite you all night with no ill effects except an itch.) The lady mosquito gets a couple of drops of malarial blood in her stomach and with 10 days have become parasites which spread into the salivary glands located in her stinger. Then the next time she stings, parasites are transmitted into the blood stream of the person who gets bitten. In the blood stream these parasites become spores which attach themselves to the red blood cells and grow until they burst the cells. Then they divide and destroy more blood cells. If this isn’t stopped, the patient eventually will die.

If you are bitten by a malaria-bearing mosquito, the first symptom you experience is a lazy feeling about three days after the bite. You yawn and stretch. Your muscles and bones begin to ache. Next you lose your appetite and may feel nauseated. Then come chills, which may last as long as eight hours. Then you get a terrific fever that may jump as high as 105 degrees. You sweat and the fever goes down. Then in a few hours, back come the chills and the chills-and-fever routine starts all over again.

By that time, you should be in a hospital where, with proper treatment, you’ll recover in about 10 days and be on your feet but weak as a stuck pig. In your weak condition you are a push-over for any such disease as black-water fever that may be in the vicinity.

Safeguards against malaria start, then, with keeping from getting bitten. That means screening building, being careful to cover the skin with clothes at night and putting up the mosquito net while sleeping. It is also a very good idea to stay away from native villages, since the mosquitoes most often get malarial germs in their stomachs by biting natives who have malaria.

You can also take drugs which increase your resistance to malarial infection. In our Army the ration is atabrine. This may be taken several ways, depending on conditions, but the important thing is to take it exactly as you are ordered, or you’ll be sorry. IF you have had no orders, take half a pill each day and a whole pill on Sundays. Take atabrine on a full stomach, or you may get a little wheezy in the belly. If your skin gets a little yellow, don’t get scared; your color will return to normal after you stop taking atabrine.

For More on Malaria Check Out:

The Making of a Tropical Disease: A Short History of Malaria (Johns Hopkins Biographies of Disease)

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