In Africa alone, 800,000 children die of malaria each year.

The death rate was actually once lower, but then economic problems, and the banning of DDT caused a rebound of disease carrying mosquitoes, and a resurgence in these diseases.

But it’s not only malaria: Southeast Asia has had a rebound in Dengue fever in the last few years., and a recent upsurge in Latin America has infected over 100 thousand people this year so far.

Both diseases are carried by mosquitoes, but different mosquitoes. However, prevention for both types are about the same: get rid of standing water, spray ponds and standing water with insecticide, wear long sleeved clothing and use insect repellent, and use screens or mosquito nets to protect you at night.

Our province has dozens of diagnosed cases each year (and probably most cases never see a doctor). The headlines today are that eight kids in Cebu died from Dengue; presumably that means our mayor will find money to spray our open ditch sewers, and other standing ponds to get rid of the mosquitoes. (FYI: The larvae can grow in cans and tires in vacant lots, but not the muddy water of rice paddies).

The headlines all blame it on “global warming”, but when you know history, that Philadelphia had a yellow fever epidemic in 1790 (carried by the same mosquitoes as Dengue) you can see it’s the bugs that have to be kept under control or they’ll come back.

Thanks to BillGates and others, there has been a lot of money being invested in Asia and Africa to control disease, including malaria. That means controlling mosquitoes, from teaching people to drain fetid water to using mosquito nets with insecticide in them.

So I am upset when I read that some environmental scientists are striving to stop poorer countries from using DDT.
Luckily, they didn’t ban DDT this year, but “experts” are “worried” about side effects of DDT

This article argues wait a minute: You should worry first about those 800 thousand African children who die from Malaria each year, and worry about a theoretical risk of cancer or infertility later.

Although the International Agency for Research on Cancer rates DDT as a possible human carcinogen (along with, notably, several pharmaceutical drugs), not one case-control study of DDT’s human carcinogenicity has been affirmatively replicated. Breast cancer furnishes the clearest example: the first study to correlate DDT exposure with statistically elevated risk17 has now failed to be replicated at least 8 times18-25, and of these later studies, some found exposure to significantly reduce risk24, 25. Much the same can be said of studies indicating involvement of DDT in multiple myeloma, hepatic cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma26, 27.

For poor countries, the choice may be to use cheap, fairly non toxic DDT (albeit with a small number of long term side effects since it is stored in fatty tissue).

Because the alternative is newer insecticide that can cause acute poisoning, have few long term studies, and are so expensive that many countries can’t afford them.

Yet the claims about infertility caught my eye.

That should be easy to check.

You see, 56 years ago, DDT was first used to fight an epidemic of typhus in Naples LINK

Yet no maternal problems were found there link.

Typhus is spread by lice, and lice are spread from person to person. It is notorious for killing people in times of war.

The traditional way of control was to isolate the patient, burn all the clothing, wash everyone in contact with the patient, and sterilize their living quarters.

Nowadays we have antibiotics to treat cases, but not in 1943,

To make things worse, it was winter, people couldn’t bathe due to lack of water, and often kept their clothing on to stay warm. People crowded into cellars and caves during air raids, many were malnourished, and the city’s water and sewer system had been largely destroyed by bombing. To make things worse, transportation was difficult, and no one was sure who was in charge.

Yet in January 1943, Naples proved that one could stop a typhus epidemic by tracing cases and their contacts, and by treating the entire population by spraying them and their clothing with DDT.

Remember, this was wartime, so people didn’t have spare clothes. And how can you spray 100 thousand people a day if you require them to get naked in public?

So they sprayed the outside of the clothing, they sprayed their hair and their hats, and then they put the sprays into the sleeves, neck and legs of the clothing and sprayed the skin.

Over 2 million people in Naples alone were sprayed at least once.

And within a month, the cases of typhus dropped dramatically. The epidemic was over.

No, you can’t get rid of mosquitoes that easily.

However, if DDT was such a problem for humans, then we should be able to prove it by doing more population studies on people in the Naples area.

And while you’re at it, ask them if stopping the epidemic was worth it.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and fishmarket.

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