Malarial Birds: Modeling Infectious Human Disease in Animals

Through the examination of avian malarias as models of infectious human disease, this paper reveals the kinds of claims that scientists and physicians made on the basis of animal models—biological systems in the laboratory and the field—and what characteristics made for congruence between these models and human malaria. The focus is on the period between 1895 and 1945, and on the genesis and trajectory of certain animal models of malaria within specific locations, such as the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health in Baltimore and Bayer (I. G. Farben) in Elberfeld. These exemplars illustrate a diversity of approaches to malaria-as-disease, and the difficulties of framing aspects of this disease complex within an animal or laboratory system. The diversity and nearness to wild types of the birds, protozoan parasites, and mosquitoes that made up these malaria models contributed a great deal to the complexity of the models. Avian malarias, adopted with enthusiasm, were essential to the success of the U.S. antimalarial program during World War II.