When Did Malaria Enter the New World?

Was it a disease that the original eurasian migrants brought with them? or was it introduced later, after Columbus? I ask becaus the Incas used cinchona bark (quinine) to treat malaria, which argues for a pre-Columbian presence.

The Wikipedia article suggests that it goes back to unrecorded history. 50,000 years.

Uh . . . didn’t you answer your own question?

Human malaria was introduced into the Americas after Columbus’s voyage, from Europe and via African slaves.

From here:

There is considerable uncertainty in whether or not indigenous peoples used cinchona bark at all before the arrival of the Spanish. It is often impossible to make definite species identifications from vague descriptions in early written accounts. If they did use it, it was to treat conditions other than malaria. The first recorded use of cinchona to treat malaria was apparently in the early 1600s.

See also here:

Well, then how the heck did someone get the idea to use the bark of some random Central American tree to treat malaria? Someone get so sick they started chewing on bark randomly? I don’t know much about malaria, but quinine is used as a preventative (perhaps it gives some immediate relief, too). How would someone discover that the bark of this one random tree kept you from getting malaria, if you were not already using it for something else? (Btw - I don’t mean to sound incredulous - just mistified)

According to the account in The Miraculous Fever-Tree by Fiammetta Rocco, the natives chewed the bark to control shivering when they were cold. Since extreme shivering is one of the symptoms of the onset of malaria, the Spanish figured it would help alleviate the symptoms of malaria as well. As they began using it, they made the happy discovery that it not only alleviated the symptoms but seemed to have curative and preventive powers.

(I’m paraphrasing because I don’t have the book in front of me.)

Wikipedia also says much the same thing, for those that want an on-line cite.


I’ve had the same reaction at times.

Those people weren’t dumb, that’s for sure. I read an article which said that anything edible was discovered by pre-modern man with the exception of the marginal macedemia nut…and some things they discovered are just plain weird and/or dangerous.

Mention has been made, of the Amazon basin-it was heavily populated (in pre-Columbian times). All of these habitations disappeared, by the 17h century-was it due to malaria?