Sardinia and Malaria

Did the eradication of Malaria in Sardinia lead to immune-mediated diseases like multiple sclerosis and type-1 diabetes, diseases that are startlingly common in Sardinia these days? Such is the question posed by Moises Velasquez-Manoff, a science writer living in New York City and the author of An Epidemic of Absence: A New Way of Understanding Allergies and Autoimmune Diseases, excerpted in Wired.

The stats weren’t always like this here. In Sardinia, there’s a distinct Year Zero for autoimmune disease. Just after the eradication of malaria in the 1950s, immune-mediated diseases began increasing precipitously. Sotgiu thinks the timing isn’t coincidental. Malaria may have selected for ­autoimmunity-prone genes. But infection with the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum likely protected against the dark side of the very genes it helped shape. In this aspect, Sotgiu’s hypothesis departs from more run-of-the-mill invocations of genetics. He suspects that the highly specialized Sardinian immune system functions properly only in the context of the invader it evolved to thwart. Sardinians need to engage with their old foe, in essence, to avoid the demons lurking within. ~ Island of Autoimmunity

Evidence, perhaps, that destroying something considered entirely evil isn’t the most noble course of action. Things even out.

(Read some background on Sardinia and Malaria. The traveler can see many signs of the effort to extinguish malaria in Sardinia.)

Sardinia and Malaria originally appeared on Sep 05, 2012, © James Martin


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