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Sixty years ago the United States took upon itself a challenge—eradicate malaria from the entire country, all 3.8 million square miles of it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the nation’s leading public health institute, was borne out of this plan, and for the next four years the CDC devoted itself to the cause spraying DDT in millions of homes across the country. In just three years, malaria cases dropped from 15,000 in 1947 to only 2,000 in 1950. By the end of the next year, malaria was considered eliminated.

DDT’s effectiveness in killing mosquitos wasn’t known until 1939 when the Swiss chemist Paul Hermann Müller discovered the chemical’s insecticidal action. Before that, controlling malaria was limited to proactive measures such as eliminating mosquito breeding grounds by drainage or poisoning with Paris green or pyrethrum.


Photo credit: Sangaroon/

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