IF AN outbreak of malaria were to occur in Slovakia, it would be in the eastern part of the country, the Pravda daily wrote on June 16. Though perhaps hard to believe, archives show that the eastern Slovakia district of Kráľovský Chlmec has reported as many as 15,000 annual cases of the infectious disease in the past. The situation in other nearby regions is similar. And though the last anti-malarial station in the region, in Veľké Kapušany, closed down 50 years ago, anopheles, the genus of mosquito that transmits malaria, can still be found there.
"Mosquitoes are here, and other conditions suitable for the spread of malaria have been gradually developing," said Zdeněk Vostal, who fought the parasite's spread in eastern Slovakia in 1953.
Vostal had just graduated from the School of Natural Sciences at Charles University in Prague when he participated in the mass spraying against mosquitoes at the Trať Mládeže railway, close to Michaľany.
About 20,000 young people from across Czechoslovakia were building a railway there during the summer. "We used all the DDT [a banned pesticide - ed. note] available in all of Czechoslovakia," Vostal recalled. The spraying was allegedly effective, but DDT is no longer used to combat mosquitoes.
Before and just after the Second World War, malaria hit the districts of Kráľovský Chlmec, Veľké Kapušany, Sobrance, Michalovce, Humenné, Vranov nad Topľou and Košice particularly hard.
"Before the war, the disease infected as much as one half of the population of some villages, and 15-20 percent during floods," Vostal told the daily.
A precise register of the people infected with malaria was only compiled long after it initially began to spread, and when reporting the illness became required by law, some doctors continued to misdiagnose it as dysentery or typhus.
Nasir Jalili, a parasitologist from Bratislava, ascribes the eradication of malaria in Slovakia to the drying up of marshes, regulation of river basins and liquidation of regular floods in eastern Slovak lowlands.
Parasitologist and zoologist Milan Labuda considers the change of lifestyle in villages to be a significant factor. "Mosquitoes transmitting malaria always start by trying to infect animals. In the past, people kept cows in their houses, so the contact with mosquitoes was direct. Moreover, every village had a pond or a water reservoir in case of fire. Mosquitoes hatched there. But eventually, the mosquitoes were liquidated and moved, along with cowsheds, outside villages," Labuda said.
"No outbreaks of malaria have been reported since 1957 in Kráľovský Chlmec and its surroundings," he added.
The World Health Organization declared Slovakia a malaria-free country in 1963.
But climatologists have warned that global warming could cause significant changes in how often the disease occurs. "Mediterranean ticks, some kinds of mosquitoes, cholera and some tropical diseases are starting to spread into more northern regions of Europe," Labuda said.
2. Jul 2007 at 0:00