"So, naturalists observe, a flea has smaller fleas that on him prey; and these have smaller still to bite ’em; and so proceed ad infinitum."
- Jonathan Swift

May 31, 2010

May 31 - Rickettsia prowazekii

On Memorial Day, we honor the many soldiers who fought for our country. While bullets and other forms of arms are certainly the primary concern for soldiers at war, diseases that are spread under the conditions of warfare have taken their share of casualties as well. One of the most important ones, from the times of the Peloponnesian Wars in ancient Greece up through World War II, was epidemic typhus, caused by the bacterium, Rickettsia prowazekii. The bacteria are transmitted from person to person by the human body louse (Pediculus humanus humanus) and causes high fevers, rashes, headaches. muscle pains and delirium. Typhus has played a major role in history: the disease killed more of Napoleon's soldiers than the Russians did and then in World War I, over 3 million Russians died from typhus. The disease was rampant in Nazi concentration camps - both Anne Frank and her sister died of it.

The photo, from Wikipedia, shows two soldiers demonstrating a DDT gun, which was used to kill lice.


  1. From John Janovy, University of Nebraska:

    "Howard Ricketts, for which the genus is named, came to the University of Nebraska as a football player in the 1890s, got interested in biology, went to Northwestern to med school, got interested in research, and became Howard T. Ricketts, discoverer of the Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever life cycle. (I honestly believe most of this is true, especially the "football for Nebraska" part. Interestingly, at that time, they were the Bugeaters instead of Cornhuskers."

  2. I had to google the "Bugeaters" to make sure he wasn't making it up. Wow! He's right. The Nebraska Bugeaters. That's funny! That would be a good name for a motorcycle gang.

  3. Susan Perkin has given interesting information. I liked it very much.