History Of Parasitology

The history of the world is full of cases where parasitic diseases are mentioned. From the parasites found in the Egyptian mummies to various references used in the Bible, man has known and battled parasites since the beginning of recorded history.

a. Ancient History. The Ebers papyrus, written about 1600 BC, contains references to the presence of parasitic worms in man. The laws of the Mosaic code prohibiting the consumption of meat from unclean animals indicate that the early Israelites had knowledge about parasitic infections. There is also evidence of parasitic recognition among the Roman, Greek, Persian, and Phoenician scientists. Chinese doctors were aware of parasites as early as 300 BC.

b. Modern History. The liver fluke Fasciola hepatica was discovered by Jehan de Brie in 1379 from sheep. Anton Van Leewenhoek (1632-1723) described the morphology of the protozoan Giardia lamblia from his own stool. In 1880, Laveran demonstrated the intracellular parasites of malaria. These are but a few of the many discoveries made in the nineteenth and twentieth century that expanded the field of parasitology.

c. Misconceptions. Parasites were thought to be beneficial to humans during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. For example, many people believed that lice protected children from disease and leeches were used extensively for blood letting as a cure. For a time, intestinal parasites were thought to help in cleaning the tract of excess food and waste and until recently, the Chinese believed that powdered Ascaris was helpful for medicinal treatment of impotency. In France, the heads of tapeworms (scolices) were once used as weight control measures.

d. Present Ideology. Modern medicine has recognized the pathogenic effects of parasites and is searching for drugs useful in the treatment of parasitic infections. Prevention is the best method to attack the problem of parasites. Therefore, to prevent and to treat parasitic infections, the life cycles of the parasites must be known. To this end, much time and money have been invested in the eradication of vectors (carriers) that spread parasites. In fact, the fauna (animal life) and flora (plant life) of entire regions have been changed in an attempt to disrupt the reproduction of Schistosoma in some snails.

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