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Malaria, DDT, and The Facts

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Malaria and DDT have a long history. Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) is one of the most well known insecticides. Though still in use in some parts of the world, DDT has a very controversial history and many health effects associated with its use. Though used primarily for the elimination of malaria, DDT can eliminate many other dangerous diseases and insects.

History of Malaria and DDT

While the governments of North America have been able to eliminate malaria in the states (fewer than ten cases per year on average), it remains an endemic in some parts of the world. During World War II, DDT was the most cost-effective and prolific chemical available for eliminating both malaria and typhus. Widespread use in the 1950s and 1960s by the World Health Organization (WHO) was very successful in many parts of the world. For example, before the WHO introduced DDT to the country of Sri Lanka, it had roughly three million reported cases of malaria per year. Afterwards, this number dropped to under 30. Because there were no regulations on DDT use for many years, both mosquitoes and the malaria parasite itself could become resistant to the effects of DDT. This combined with discovering the adverse health and environmental effects of DDT led governments around the world to start banning its use in any field. The United States banned DDT for agricultural use in 1972. About 12 countries still use DDT in some capacity, mostly for vector control of disease rather than agricultural. By 2020, the WHO hopes to have DDT use eliminated in every part of the world.

Dangers of Malaria and DDT

Malaria and DDT have been the results of many health problems. DDT can increase the likelihood of diabetes, cause pre-term birth, and affect every part of the impregnation, gestation, and birthing process. Additionally, this may cause infants to have a low birth weight and can increase the risk of asthma or neurological problems. The United States considers DDT to be a probable carcinogen, and scientists have linked DDT exposure to an increase in cancer in the following areas:

  • Liver
  • Pancreas
  • Breasts
  • Blood
  • Lymphatic system

DDT use against malaria was very effective for a number of decades, until the dangers of human exposure and environmental contamination became known. DDT is still in use today as a vector control against the spread of disease, though increased resistance and its level of toxicity in humans have largely diminished its use. Since DDT’s ban, more effective and less expensive methods to control malaria have become available, and preventative measures are available if you plan to travel to an area where malaria is still prevalent. For more information about malaria and DDT or their effects, contact your physician.

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