When the Nazis Used Biological Warfare Against the Italians

A webcomic led me down an internet rabbit hole, to an article about the world’s deadliest disease: malaria. The mosquito-borne disease is estimated to have killed half the people who ever lived, although that flies under the radar for most of us because 1. It’s been around for thousands of years, and 2. Most of the fatalities are in young children. I learned about malaria’s role in the rise of sickle-cell anemia, a far-from-perfect evolutionary adaptation to malaria. Malaria had a role in establishing slavery in colonial America. And in 1943, it was the agent of biological warfare. The Pontine Marshes outside of Rome were a historical hotbed of malaria until 1922, when the new prime minister Benito Mussolini ordered a plan to drain the marshes.  

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That reduced Italian malarial fatalities by 99.8 per cent between 1932 and 1939, and inspired the occupying Germans to carry out the only known example of biological warfare in 20th-century Europe: in late 1943, the Nazis seized supplies of the anti-malarial medicine quinine, reversed the draining pumps and opened the dikes. Anopheles mosquitoes returned, Allied (and German) soldiers became sick, and Italian civilians began dying. Malarial deaths spiked from 33 in 1939 to 55,000 in 1944.

I had to know more about that, so I went to Wikipedia.

The Battle of Anzio left the marsh in state of devastation; nearly everything Mussolini had accomplished was reversed. The cities were in ruins, the houses blown up, the marshes full of brackish water, the channels filled in, the plain depopulated, the mosquitos flourishing, and malaria on the rise. The major structures for water control survived, and in a few years, the Agro Pontino was restored. In 1947, the province of Littoria, created by Mussolini, was renamed to Latina. The last of the malaria was conquered in the 1950s, with the aid of DDT.

Today, the land is managed by the drainage system without DDT. There are towns, farms, and tourist attractions as well as lakes and canals.

Source: neatorama

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