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Open Access Research

The decline of malaria in Finland – the impact of the vector and social variables

Lena Hulden1* and Larry Hulden2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Forest Ecology, PO Box 26, FIN-00014 Helsinki University, Helsinki, Finland

2 Finnish Museum of Natural History, PO Box 17, FIN-00014 Helsinki University, Helsinki, Finland

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Malaria Journal 2009, 8:94  doi:10.1186/1475-2875-8-94

Published: 7 May 2009

Abstract

Background

Malaria was prevalent in Finland in the 18th century. It declined slowly without deliberate counter-measures and the last indigenous case was reported in 1954. In the present analysis of indigenous malaria in Finland, an effort was made to construct a data set on annual malaria cases of maximum temporal length to be able to evaluate the significance of different factors assumed to affect malaria trends.

Methods

To analyse the long-term trend malaria statistics were collected from 1750–2008. During that time, malaria frequency decreased from about 20,000 – 50,000 per 1,000,000 people to less than 1 per 1,000,000 people. To assess the cause of the decline, a correlation analysis was performed between malaria frequency per million people and temperature data, animal husbandry, consolidation of land by redistribution and household size.

Results

Anopheles messeae and Anopheles beklemishevi exist only as larvae in June and most of July. The females seek an overwintering place in August. Those that overwinter together with humans may act as vectors. They have to stay in their overwintering place from September to May because of the cold climate. The temperatures between June and July determine the number of malaria cases during the following transmission season. This did not, however, have an impact on the long-term trend of malaria. The change in animal husbandry and reclamation of wetlands may also be excluded as a possible cause for the decline of malaria. The long-term social changes, such as land consolidation and decreasing household size, showed a strong correlation with the decline of Plasmodium.

Conclusion

The indigenous malaria in Finland faded out evenly in the whole country during 200 years with limited or no counter-measures or medication. It appears that malaria in Finland was basically a social disease and that malaria trends were strongly linked to changes in human behaviour. Decreasing household size caused fewer interactions between families and accordingly decreasing recolonization possibilities for Plasmodium. The permanent drop of the household size was the precondition for a permanent eradication of malaria.