Austrian children injected with malaria parasite (Update)

by George Jahn

An Austrian commission following up on claims that doctors deliberately infected patients with malaria to treat others with syphilis says hundreds of people, including orphans in a psychiatric hospital, might have been infected.

The commission started work last year following accusations by former patients who were orphaned children on a psychiatric and neurological ward run by the city of Vienna. Lawyer Johannes Oehlboeck, who represents some of them, told The Associated Press on Friday that several believe they were used as "carriers" for the malaria parasite to keep it alive until it could be injected into syphilis patients, in a medical therapy once thought to be effective.

Malaria is a potentially fatal disease caused by parasites and usually spread to people by infected mosquitoes. Most deaths occur in children under 5.

Commission head Gernot Heiss said Friday that ongoing investigations of the 1951-1969 period show that 230 people, including some children on the ward, were injected with the parasite, all between 1955 and 1960.

The injections normally caused two weeks of fever as high as 42 C (nearly 108 F) as well as sudden fever attacks continuing up to two decades. In an email, Heiss said that none of those known to have been infected so far died from malaria.

The fever caused by malaria was meant to kill the syphilis. The commission has so far examined 5,140 medical histories and Heiss said it expects to end its work next year with a ruling on whether the practices reflected modern medical standards of the time.

Heiss said that malaria therapy was "recognized and practiced worldwide" until the early 1960s. He did not comment on the suspicions by the clients of Oehlboeck, the Vienna lawyer.

In 1927, Austrian psychiatrist Julius Wagner-Jauregg received the Nobel Prize in medicine for using malaria to treat people with a severe form of syphilis that infects the brain and can cause delusions, psychosis and paralysis. Doctors in Britain and the U.S. also used the treatment, sometimes using mosquitoes to infect their patients.

In subsequent years, there were ethical concerns about using malaria to treat patients with mental health problems. The later introduction of penicillin to treat infections and other therapies ultimately made the malaria treatment obsolete.

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

UN attacks biting bugs that spread diseases

Apr 07, 2014

Nobody likes mosquitoes, and the World Health Organization blames them for an array of diseases that kill a million people each year and threaten the health of half the world's people.

Recommended for you

US cautiously optimistic after no new Ebola in 5 days

1 hour ago

With no new Ebola cases in five days, US authorities were cautious but hopeful Monday that the virus has been contained in the United States after a flawed response revealed shortcomings in the system.

Nigeria declared Ebola-free in 'spectacular success'

1 hour ago

Nigeria was declared Ebola-free on Monday in a "spectacular success" in the battle to contain the spread of a virus which is devastating Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia where more than 4,500 people have died.

EU says 'increased' effort needed to tackle Ebola

2 hours ago

European Union foreign ministers agreed Monday to step up efforts to contain Ebola to prevent it becoming a global threat, including ensuring proper care for international health workers.

User comments