Zach and I were playing around with Google’s Ngram Viewer recently. To learn more about the program you should check out the link, but in a nutshell we were using the program to track the frequency of particular words in the english language as a function of how frequently they occur in books. I, of course, decided to examine changes in how frequently the word “parasite” was used. Here is what I found:
This chart shows what percent of words printed in books written in english were the word “parasite” or “parasites”. Zach immediately noted that peaks on the graph corresponded to times of war. Check it out (as both lines follow the same trend I removed “parasites” to create additional space):
The field of parasitology receives regular boosts during times of war. By “boosts,” I mean increased hiring of parasitologists and increased funding available for parasitological studies. When soldiers from the USA and England travel the world in times of war, they encounter lots of nasty, debilitating parasites which are not a problem back home. These parasites freak out soldiers, who aren’t accustomed to finding blood in their urine (from Schistosoma haematobium
infection) or unexplainable open sores (or leishmaniasis
). Additionally, these parasites make our troops less effective. Malaria
, in particular, was a major problem during wartime. This parasite is spread by mosquitos and infects red blood cells. The parasites synchronize their reproduction, and break out of old red blood cells in search of new cells at the same time. The timing depends on the parasite species, but it’s common to experience major fevers, shivering, vomiting, and anemia every two days or so when the parasites lyse their old red blood cell homes. The disease is debilitating, energetically expensive, and efficient at sending soldiers to the hospital.
In fact, this disease kept so many soldiers off the field during World War II that major funding went into controlling the disease (article here
), leading to the production of vaccinations, medications, and mosquito control techniques. War time is a bad time to be a soldier, but a good time to be a parasitologist. In fact, you can see that our efforts to battle malaria during WWII were somewhat effective because you don’t see a prominent peak in the word “malaria” during the Vietnam War:
Please see the comments section for some really interesting suggestions provided by readers!