Conquering the pestilence of malaria, a modern-day bogey

Wetlands of the Okavango Delta, Botswana

Pestilence, aka Death, is one of the terrifying Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a group of End of Days riders described in Chapter 6, verses 1-8 in the Book of Revelation of the Bible. They each ride on a colored horse and represent some aspect of impending doom.

In the Book, a heavenly being called the Lamb opens seven seals that portend the Second Coming of Christ. Biblical analysts are divided as to whether the passage was meant to be an actual prediction, some sort of moral allegory, or a commentary during the period when the Christian Church was being heavily persecuted by the Roman Empire.

However you look at it, it’s scary stuff that has provided great fodder for fantasy/horror novels, as well as on television in the Sleepy Hollow series.

The rider of the white horse wears a crown, holds a bow, and rides as a conqueror. Opinions on its identity is also divided between Christ and the Antichrist. The red horse is fiery, and its rider holds a large sword and causes War. Riding the black horse, the rider carries a set of scales to measure wheat and barley, and is believed to represent Famine, possibly as a result of War.

The fourth horseman is described as riding a “pale” horse and is given the name Death. He’s closely followed by Hades, the Greek god of the underworld, and has the power to kill by sword, famine, and plague, and also by the wild beasts of the earth (Rev. 6:7-8). Chloros is the actual description for the horse in the Bible, Greek for a yellowish-green but with an ashen cast – it was translated into “pale”, the hue of the very ill and dead.

Many widespread plagues have killed millions of people throughout history, but in modern times we’re much better at conquering them, thankfully, even though they still strike fear into humans. Happily, one of the long-standing diseases plaguing much of Africa, Asia and South America – malaria – now has a new foe in the battle: a vaccine!

My hubby and I have been travelling for decades to countries with a variety of endemic diseases, most of which had prevention through some form of vaccination, either oral or through injection. Malaria, however, wasn’t one of them, and it’s a scary disease that has been killing more than 400,000 people a year, even though insecticides and netting for beds have been widely in use.

Malaria is a parasite, transmitted through a bite from an infected Anopheles mosquito. The parasites travel to a person’s, or animal’s, liver through the bloodstream, where they reproduce and cause all kinds of problems. They manifest primarily as an initial period of intense chills, shivering and fever, followed by sweating, headache, muscle pain, and other increasingly worse conditions. Symptoms usually don’t show up until ten days to two weeks after infection, so it’s one of those sneaky delayed diseases.

Preventative medication works – hubby and I have taken it many times – but it’s always been a cumbersome regimen. Up to now, travellers have had to start taking the medication for one to two weeks before arrival in the country where the disease is present (depending on the drug), all the way through the trip, and for four to eight weeks after returning home, to make sure that all the parasites you might have picked up have been killed in all stages of their life cycle.

Quinine was the first medication created to treat and prevent malaria. It comes from the bark of a tree in Peru called cinchona, and as early as the 1600s was brought back to Spain by Jesuit missionaries. Tropical outposts of the British Empire mixed quinine with soda and sugar to mask the bitterness of the quinine, and then put it into gin cocktails to get soldiers to take it – hence the classic Gin and Tonic. Now you know what gives tonic its somewhat bitter taste – never been a favourite of mine, but I do know some people who like the cocktail.

Malaria, once you’ve gotten it, is never fully cured. Symptoms can recur for years. One of the pharmacies I worked in as a technician years ago had a number of older war veterans as clients who continued to suffer bouts of the disease from time to time.

As a form of pestilence, malaria ranks with the best due to its pervasiveness. At one time it infested every continent except Antarctica – even Canada and the U.S., where it flourished in swampy areas that mosquitoes love to breed in. In my province of Ontario, it spread through early settlers from Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake) to Cataraqui (now Kingston). It was so common that it was considered unusual if a newcomer didn’t develop ‘fever and ague’ within a year or two of arriving. In both countries, drainage of large tracts of marshy breeding grounds was the main weapon in eradicating malaria as an endemic disease, but other countries continue to battle it.

You see the scale of the problem, and why the development of a vaccine is such great news, and is being hailed as “world-changing”. It’s the work of scientists at Oxford University, and trials have shown up to 80% protection. In addition, it’s not expensive to produce and can be widely deployed, lessening the number of people who get it and then infect more mosquitoes. It’s expected to prevent 1,7 billion cases and save 10.6 million lives.

So, knocking on wood (literally) as I write this, we’ll hopefully force the fourth Horsemen to remove one piece of pestilence from his roster.

For more information on the fight against the disease, visit the website of Malaria No More.

Step away from your screen(s)

An African sunset, truly magical

Since March 2022 I’ve been a local explorer. During the autumn preceding the COVID pandemic, my hubby and I had visited Ireland, and over the December holidays we’d spent time with a relative outside Nashville, TN, so at least we had those under our belts to hold us while we waited to see how the global disease was going to play out.

Some of our friends and relatives decided to travel outside the country, bucking the requests and advice of our government; we chose to stay within our province for the greater good. So if you’ve been following this blog during that time, you’ll have seen memories from all the local adventures I’ve been embarking on. On those journeys, there has been so much history and local culture to discover, and plenty of local beauty as well. Most of my, and our, best moments have happened out and about.

We have spectacular ornamental cherry blossoms in our area each spring, but hardly anyone goes out to see them

I was intrigued to see what advice a 100-year old traveller – someone who’s reached a milestone most of us never will – would have to offer, in a recent article posted on AFAR Magazine, and wasn’t really surprised to see that it dovetails with my own philosophy.

Both Deborah Szekely and I (and most of my friends) grew up in the decades before smartphones, tablets or even the internet existed. We had no other option than to really embrace the world around us and be in the moment all the time. It was a great time to travel, sometimes by the seat of our pants, and without the benefit of GPS, online city guides, or any kind of convenient app. That meant that we had to think on our feet, pay attention to our surroundings and form our own opinions.

Now, I see all kinds of travellers with their faces buried in their screens, completely missing what’s going on around them. They base their choices on the opinions of influencers who offer no guarantee that they know what they’re talking about, and often present false fronts on their media sites. People destroy popular tourist sites so they can take a photo of themselves looking cool, thus being a general nuisance and often ruining the site for any visitors that try to come after them.

This beautiful iris in the cloud forest of Peru only blooms one day a year; exploring by myself, I was the only person in our tour group to see it

According to the article about Szekely, her philosophy is “to find our own inner peace by looking away from our screens and immersing ourselves in the beauty of the world. And sometimes, the best antidote to doom scrolling is by going on a walk—not on the treadmill, but in nature—and by focusing our awareness on the birds and other wildlife around us, we’ll find “all kinds of answers.” “ 1

Building on that, if you look through history, political clashes come and go and the human race goes on. Devastating epidemics have occurred over the centuries – the Black Death killed 75–200 million people in Eurasia and North Africa, the Spanish Flu anywhere from 17 million to possibly 100 million worldwide – and humanity survived those with far less medical advances than we have today. Many people are working hard to save species and our planet.

Things you see on the side of the road deep in the African bush: an elephant refreshing itself in the hot afternoon sun

It’s important for us to stay informed enough to remain safe, but not to drive ourselves crazy with it. Conspiracy theories count on fear to help them spread, but wouldn’t you rather feel good about life and stop worrying that everyone’s out to get you? Sure, there’s bad in the world, but there’s a lot of good also, and that’s the kind of news I want to look at.

My advice builds on what Szekely has to say: stop living your life through an electronic device. Get out and actually live! The world is still very beautiful and there are plenty of wonderful people in it. But you’ll only experience all of that when you look up. Go someplace, see what it has to offer without any preconceived ideas, and make up your own mind about it. Learn to rely on your own opinions and judgements. Travel locally or travel abroad, safely and with full awareness of where you are. And then let me know what you found 😊

Look up, look down, look all around — you’ll be amazed at what you see

All photos are by me and all rights reserved. E. Jurus

1After Living, Traveling, and Learning Her Way to 100, Deborah Szekely Has Some Advice for You, byChloe Arrojado for AFAR Magazine, May 10, 2022, www.afar.com/magazine/wellness-tips-from-100-year-old-legend-deborah-szekely

Green Day

A painted turtle shows off its colours while it basks on a pond log

Apologies folks! I was so busy last week prepping for a family dinner on Easter weekend that I lost track of my blog post schedule. But today is perfect timing to celebrate Earth Day, and in honour of the event, this week’s post features green things on our planet. Green is the colour of nature, of growing things, of hope. As Spring very slowly makes its appearance in my neck of the woods (we had snow again just a few days ago!), burgeoning green plants are a signpost that the change of season is really happening.

The theme of this year’s Earth Day is “Invest in Our Planet”. Check out the website for listings of global livestream events as well as a map of any local events that may be taking place near you.

If there’s nothing near you, I encourage you to take a walk in nature and appreciate its richness and beauty. Be grateful that we still have so much greenness to enjoy and celebrate.

Bright daffodils with their rich green leaves and stems
Green mixed with shades of burgundy and purple on tulips pushing out of the ground
A carpet of green grass studded with blue flowers under a venerable old tree waiting to unfurl its leaves
Spectacular unidentified shrub, possibly a kind of bamboo?
The soft jade of a sedum cluster
Even water can be green – here the Niagara River as it flows under the Queenston-Lewiston border bridge

So many shades of green! Let’s all do our part in preventing that colour from going extinct.

All photos are by me unless otherwise specified and all rights reserved. E. Jurus

World Wildlife Day – the Circle of Life

Faithful readers will have noticed a lot of wildlife photos on this blog. My father had a great love of animals — we were regularly rescuing injured birds and feeding area squirrels — and instilled it in me. In high school I loved my first biology class, and decided that would be my career path. I entered university with the idea of eventually doing cancer research, but I landed my first summer job with the Ministry of the Environment, and that changed my focus. I majored in Ecology: the study of how the entire world, from the creatures that hang around a pond in a forest to everything on this planet, is interconnected. Every segment is critical, and we humans have arrogantly ignored that for the most part.

People often speak of the ‘circle of life’ in Africa, where it’s obvious and transparent. In the photo above, taken in the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, a large pride of lions had killed a zebra and were enjoying dinner late in the afternoon. Scenes like that epitomize life in Africa: the loss of a zebra feeds an entire family of lions. This was an important meal for the lions, as their species is listed as ‘vulnerable’, only one step away from ‘endangered’. Yes, the top predator in Africa isn’t doing well at surviving.

As we watched the lions eat, other species gathered around. First the jackals showed up. They’re called “opportunistic” predators — they’ll hunt small animals and birds, and will scavenge from larger kills.

It didn’t take much longer for the vultures to arrive.

Both of these serve as cleaners in the ecosystem. By the time they’ve finished off what the lions haven’t eaten, there’s no longer any meat to decay and attract pests. They’re an essential segment of the circle of life.

And while we feel awful for the animal that was killed, we understand that if the lionesses don’t make the kill, their little cubs won’t eat either.

We permit species to die off at our own peril, not to mention losing the beauty and gift of their existence.

It’s hard to convey how beautiful lions are when you see them in the wild. Their rippling golden fur and mesmerizing golden eyes just can’t be adequately captured by a camera. I took a lot of photos trying.

Can you imagine a world without lions? Within our lifetime that’s a real possibility. Future generations may never be able to go and see a lion walking the plains of Kenya, or Botswana, or South Africa. And every species that we lose is one more piece out of the global ecosystem that supports all of us. If we lose enough pieces, that ecosystem will no longer work.

On World Wildlife Day, you can help by adding your voice to the groups doing their best to prevent further species erosion. You can find out more on the Global Citizen website.

Fascinating factoids

Apologies for the late post. I’m laid up with a nasty migraine from something I bought at a new bakery yesterday — what the triggering ingredient was is yet to be determined. So in lieu of my regular post, I’m offering a link to some information recently released by “Visual Capitalist, a data-driven media site focused on making the world’s information more accessible“.

If you’ve ever wondered about our place on Earth among the staggering 8.7 million species that make up our planet, or even if you haven’t, the graphic in the article by Nautilus magazine, All the Biomass on Earth, will blow your mind. Humans comprise only a tiny portion, which will be an eye-opener to anyone who thinks we own the planet 😉 Hope you enjoy the quick read, and see you next week, hopefully in better shape.

Carrying the torch

Maple leaves in autumn, by E. Jurus, all rights reserved

Today was Remembrance Day in Canada. Officially it commemorates the ending of hostilities in World War One, also called the Great War. Very few people from that time period are still alive today, and the impact of that event on the world is fading. We have to read a history of it to comprehend how terrible it was — over 8 million soldier deaths, and up to 100 million associated deaths, including the infamous ‘Spanish Flu’ epidemic in 1918 that originated in an American military facility. It spread around the world quickly through troop movements and public events like the Liberty Loans Parade held in Philadelphia to promote war bonds (an outbreak from that event killed 12,000 people alone). As bad as our current pandemic is today, I don’t think we can in any way understand what the world went through during that time.

For a lot of Baby Boomers, World War Two has more presence in our consciousness. My mom was a nurse in Europe during the war, and some of her stories of holding her post in a surgical theatre while bombs were falling are hair-raising. Even though both my parents survived the war, it’s impact never left them, whether via deep emotional scars or medical fallout from food rationing and years of stress. My dad never talked about the war much; his outlet was to write novels about it, which I suspect weren’t entirely fictional, but I imagine it was easier to write as if it all happened to someone else.

And of course there have been veterans of many more conflicts, localized but just as terrible to go through. I have a friend who served as a Peacekeeper for a time; what little he’s told me about it sounds traumatic in a way that those of us back home will hopefully never experience.

The poem written by Dr. John McCrae after a friend of his was killed in the trenches in Belgium during the spring of 1915, less than a year into WWI, has become an icon of that first global battle. In Flanders Fields is deeply moving, as the dead who sacrificed everything to preserve freedom ask us to carry the torch they’ve passed through generation after generation.

Today we’re engaged in our own global battle, even if it hasn’t been given a name. We live in a world of amazing technological and medical advancements, but we’re still fighting greed, selfishness and prejudice — governments and corporations that are destroying the environment for profit, people who put their own desires over the greater need to prevent COVID from causing many more deaths, and people who treat badly anyone different from themselves.

So we carry the torch, continuing the fight against fear, ignorance and oppression a century later. We can’t let our lives be defined by fear, whether it’s of a viewpoint or way of life that’s different from ours, or of an incredible medical advancement that’s allowed hundreds of thousands of people to get vaccinated against the most devastating disease of the 21st century to date, or of doing the right thing, even when it’s challenging. Take up the torch, each of you, and let’s continue the fight to make the world a better place. Together, we can do it.

Lest we forget!