Malariatherapy in Italy. A Historical Account of the Therapeutic inoculation of Malaria Parasites in Italian Psychiatric Clinics

Alessandra Bonfigli, Edvige Fanfera, Gilberto Corbellini


For more than thirty years, from the early Twenties to the late Fifties, the inoculation of malaria parasites was the therapeutic treatment preferred by Western psychiatrists and neurologists for several clinical forms of tertiary syphilis, especially general paresis. During those decades, tens of thousands of people, mainly paretics but also schizofrenic patients, were intentionally infected with the human malaria pasites. In this paper we present the result of a bibliographic survey of the practice of malariatherapy in Italy. We analyzed the seven main Italian neurology and psychiatry journal from 1920 to the 1960. Moreover, we collected the malariological bibliography concerning malariatherapy, and all the books on malariatherapy and chapter on this topic contained in any nuerology and psychiatry textbooks published in Italy during the same period. We found 91 papers in the psychiatry journals. Most of these papers were concentrated between 1926 and the end of the Thirties: the main subject consisted of clincial-statistical information, but several papers concerned serological or anatomical alteration associated to the evolution of the disease and the therapy, and the mechanisms of action. Most articles discussed the criteria for defining recovery from general paresis obtained trhough malariotherapy. This historical and bibliographic review showes that malariotherapy immediately accepted among Italian psychiatrists because of the strong relationships with Austrian and German psychiatric culture. The spread of the treatment was concetrated in the North and Center of Italy, and was administrated mainly in public psychiatric hospitals and university neurological clincs. Malariatherapy is a very interesting and fascinating subject the history of the interdisciplinary aspects related to the use of probe for exploring in a very concrete way the evolution of several important and still topical clinical, biological and ethical issues of XXth century medicine.


Key words: Malariotherapy - Italy - Psychiatry

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