I’m working on a write up on kissing bugs, so naturally I am trying to procrastinate and my mind is wandering off in all sorts of directions. (Hey is that a new oatmeal on facebook?!) So naturally, since I am thinking about Chagas disease, I float on over to other insect vectored diseases. It’s really pretty impressive all the diseases that can be transmitted by arthropods. Of course, there are numerous flies, the ticks, and the fleas. Did you know that there is an aquatic snail that transmits something called schistosomiasis? Probably the best
known are the mosquitoes, transmitting a number of pretty nasty diseases that infect billions and kill millions every year.
Thankfully, much work is being done on the prevention and spread of malaria, though much more can still be done. Back in the 17th century when Europeans invaded tropical countries, they got sick (imagine that). The Spanish found that the natives of Peru used a kind of bark to treat various “fevers”. I am trying to find some further documentation on this, but prior to this “European malaria remedies included throwing the patient head-first into a bush in the hope he would get out quickly enough to leave his fever behind.” Wow. That’s like throwing a jellybean at someone and hoping they absorb the calories in the time it takes to bounce off of them. The active ingredient in the bark was quinine powder which was found to not only treat the disease but prevent it. So bring on the gin!
“remedies included throwing the patient head-first into a bush in the hope he would get out quickly enough to leave his fever behind.”
Wait. What the flying mosquito does that have to do with malaria you ask? Everything. Quinine was a quite bitter tasting and was reportedly pretty nasty to drink. In the early 1800’s a brilliant idea occurred: British officers in India started mixing it (the quinine tonic) with water, sugar, lime, and yes, gin. Since the officers were already given a daily gin ration, this just made perfect sense. Hence, the gin and tonic was born. Today’s tonic water has much less quinine but still the distinctive bitter flavor.
So you can thank the humble mosquito for this quintessential libation. You can also thank the insect that pollinate the lime trees, and if you are like me and make more of a bee’s knees with honey, thank the bees too. I will take my entomological awesomeness with extra limes, please. Share and like with some friends, and tell them to bring the gin!