December 26, 2010
December 26 - Plasmodium vivax
In Christian lore, three wise men, the magi, traveled from the East bearing gifts for the baby Jesus. These gifts were gold, myrrh and frankincense, a resin made from trees in the genus Boswellia. The reason for the gold seems obvious, myrrh was used as an incense, which had to have made the stable smell better, and frankincense was used for many things, several related to improving ones health, including ingesting the resin to combat arthritis and other ailments. Frankincense was also burned to ward off mosquitoes and thus the diseases that they carry. One of the most important mosquito-borne diseases at that point in time in that region was malaria, in this case caused by the parasite, Plasmodium vivax. Unlike it's cousin, Plasmodium falciparum, which kills many of the people it infects, P. vivax produces a milder form of the disease, though still with the classic symptoms of profound fever and chills. P. vivax has cycles every 48 hours and is sometimes thus known as "tertian malaria." (See the entry for Plasmodium malariae if that's confusing to you.) This species has a very widespread distribution and, in fact, used to cause early Americans as far north as Philadelphia and New York City to get sick every summer. Though it may kill fewer people, this parasite maintains stages in the liver of its host and can cause relapses of the disease for decades after the initial infection.