Temperate climate malaria in nineteenth century Denmark

Mathias Mølbak Ingholt, Tzu Tung Chen, Franziska Hildebrandt, Rasmus Kristoffer Pedersen, Lone Simonsen

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Plasmodium vivax was endemic in northern Europe until the early twentieth century. Considering climate change and the recent emergence of other vector borne diseases in Europe, historical insight into the relationship between malaria and environmental factors in northern Europe is needed. This article describes malaria epidemiology in late-nineteenth century Denmark.

We described the seasonality and spatial patterns of malaria, and the relationship of the disease with environmental factors such as soil types, clay content and elevation for the period 1862–1914. We studied demographic and seasonal patterns and malaria mortality in the high-morbidity period of 1862–1880. Finally, we studied the relationship between malaria seasonality and temperature and precipitation using a Spearman correlation test.

We found that the highest incidence occurred in eastern Denmark. Lolland-Falster medical region experienced the highest incidence (14.5 cases per 1000 pop.) and Bornholm medical region experienced the lowest incidence (0.57 cases per 1000 pop.). Areas with high malaria incidence also had high soil clay content, high agricultural production, and Lolland-Falster furthermore has a low elevation. Malaria incidence typically peaked in May and was associated with high temperatures in July and August of the previous year but not with precipitation. The case fatality rate was 0.17%, and the disease affected both sexes and all age groups except for infants. In 1873, a large epidemic occurred following flooding from a storm surge in November 1872.

Malaria gradually declined in Denmark during our study period and had essentially disappeared by 1900. The high adult and low child morbidity in 1862–1880 indicates that malaria was not highly endemic in this period, as malaria is most frequent among children in highly endemic areas today. The association of high malaria incidence in spring with warmer temperatures in the previous summer suggests that transmission took place in the previous summers. The close geographical connection between malaria and soil types, agricultural production and elevation suggests that these factors are detrimental to sustain endemic malaria. Our findings of a close connection between malaria and environmental factors such as climate and geography provides insights to address potential reintroduction of malaria in temperate climates.
Original languageEnglish
Article number432
JournalBMC Infectious Diseases
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 4 May 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Carlsberg Foundation (Grant #CF20-0046) and NordForsk (Grant #104910). T.T.C. was supported by the Swedish Research Council Formas (Grant #2017-01161). F.H. was supported by the Sven and Lilly Lawski Foundation.


  • malaria
  • Denmark
  • environment
  • Plasmodium vivax
  • morbidity
  • mortality
  • historical epidemiology
  • temperate climate

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