Linnaeus’ thesis on the ague (malaria)
Malaria mosquitoes thrived in the areas around Fyris River in Uppsala in the 18th century.
Photo: Uppsala University Library.
|The ague was a common disease in Sweden during the 18th century. The disease was also called the ”Uppsala fever”. Linnaeus wrote about the ague: ”In Uppland no disease is more domestic and there it seems to particularly have ingratiated itself. Almost all students in Uppsala are affected by it.” No one knew for sure what caused the disease. It was believed that getting cold or different types of food could give rise to the ague.|
In 1735 Linnaeus defended his theses on the ague and presented a new theory of the reason for the disease. The ague seemed to be most common in areas with clay soils. Linnaeus therefore assumed that there were clay particles in the drinking water, and that this might be the cause for the ague. The particles would stick inside the blood vessels, and the body tried to get rid of them with high fevers and heavy perspirations. Linnaeus suggested a medicine making the patient sweat more (a sudorific) as treatment to help the body in its work.
Today we know that Linnaeus was wrong and that the ague is a type of malaria. With the help of a microscope malaria parasites have been discovered. These parasites are transferred to humans by malaria mosquitoes. Since Linnaeus did not have a good enough microscope he could not find the malaria parasites and the true explanation to what caused the ague. Despite the fact that his theories of what caused malaria were wrong, he was near the solution. Malaria is in a way tied to water since the larvae of the malaria mosquitoes live in stagnant water. In the 18th century the mosquito larvae were probably very common in the wet parts of the clay soils around Uppsala.