Before we discuss why sickle cell anemia has persisted for so long, let’s take a detour to learn about once of the most ancient human diseases: malaria.
Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor – just a bioengineer who happens to find pathophysiology fascinating. If you find an error, please let me know! Also, NONE of my drawings are to scale.
Malaria: scourge of the human race since time immemorial. The disease is mentioned by the ancient Chinese, Egyptians, Greeks, and Sumerians as far back as 2700 BC. Some Biblical scholars even believe that Peter’s mother-in-law was suffering from malaria before Jesus healed her.
Unlike the ancient scholars who attributed malaria to the “bad air” (mala aria) of the swamps, we now know that malaria is spread by mosquitoes (who, as it so happens, absolutely love swamps. You were close, ancient scholars). But what happens after that terrible bite? How does malaria make you sick?