51: Malaria

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LiveJournal title: Malaria
The malaria party was David's idea.LiveJournal caption: Current Mood: Credit to David for this one
Title text: The malaria party was David's idea.

LiveJournal caption: Current Mood: Credit to David for this one


This was the forty-nineth comic originally posted to LiveJournal. The previous one was 54: Science, and the next one was 52: Secret Worlds. It was among the last eleven comics posted both on LiveJournal and on xkcd.com after the new site was launched. This comic wasn't published on the same day across both sites, but most of them shared the same posting day. It was released on LiveJournal on January 21, 2006, three days after originally being posted on xkcd.com. See the trivia section below.

This comic humorously considers pox parties as a means of preventing malaria. During these "parties", adults gather their children to deliberately expose them to a communicable disease in order to promote immunity. These parties are based on the fact humans can develop an adaptive immune response after being infected by a communicable disease by producing antibodies that will recognize future infections of the pathogen. For some illnesses, such as chickenpox, this response is particularly effective in reducing the seriousness of future infections in individuals with healthy immune systems. Furthermore, some illnesses, including chickenpox, are also thought to be less severe when the initial infection occurs in childhood, rather than adulthood. So, even though vaccinations remain a safer and more effective means of preventing severe disease, pox-parties may be held under the assumption that children will benefit from contracting an illness (and developing antibodies against it) while they are still young and the disease will be, in theory, less severe. Moreover, because transmission is planned/expected (at least for the 'guests'), those concerned may feel that they are more prepared to watch for and deal with the illness than if infection had occured during some unpredictable future occasion.

However, there are major differences between poxes and malaria that make the idea of a malaria party especially absurd:

  1. Unlike poxes, exposure to malaria does not necessarily reduce the risk or severity future infections. In fact, prior infections can actually increase the likelihood of getting malaria in the future. While poxes are caused by viruses, malaria is caused by protists (a type of microorganism) of the Plasmodium genus. Malarial infection begins in humans when an infected mosquito bites them and introduces Plasmodium into the person's circulatory system via their saliva. At this point, Plasmodium will travel to the human's liver where they can mature and reproduce. After which, the pathogens typically return to the blood stream, where they can be picked up by a new mosquito vector. However, Plasmodium can also establish a dormant form in the liver, allowing malaria to reactivate years after symptoms have resolved and the blood infection has been cleared. Thus, having a malaria party would not be a useful exercise, as attending such a party would only increase the likelihood that an individual would suffer significant illness later on.
  2. As mentioned above, malaria is a mosquito-borne disease. Unlike poxes, which can be transmitted between people directly, Plasmodium are transmitted indirectly through a mosquito vector. While mosquitos do not suffer malarial disease themselves, they can become infected by Plasmodium when they drink the blood of a human with an active infection. Over the course of a week, the Plasmodium will then travel from mid-gut of the mosquito to the salivary glands, where it can be introduced to a new human host when the mosquito takes another blood meal. Since it takes approximately seven days for a mosquito to become infectious, the malaria party would have to go on for at least a week to facilitate the transmission of malaria between party-goers. Furthermore, the party-goers would theoretically have to sit around in a room full of mosquitos to accomplish their goal, which also does not sound like 'very much fun.' It is possible that this is what is being represented by the black dots on the ground, which could be interpreted as confetti or the dead bodies of swatted mosquitos. Furthermore, the balloon may be pictured on the ground to indicate that enough time has passed for the helium in the balloon to be exchanged with normal air through diffusion (however, it is likely that, in reality, the balloon would be fully deflated if the party lasted for a full week).

Therefore, the humor of this comic comes from the fact that the party-goers did not anticipate that their plan would be an uncomfortable and ineffective means of transmitting malaria between them, let alone preventing it, under-scoring the absurdity of such a party.

The title text blames David for the idea, while the original caption just seems to give him credit. He also mentioned David in 42: Geico and 100: Family Circus.


At the end of the 1990s, a study reported what would turn out to be made-up health threats from MMR-vaccines, which created an MMR vaccine controversy and lower vaccination rates, even after they were exposed as false. This made pox parties more popular as the "natural alternative." However, even usually-"harmless" diseases like measles can (rarely) have complications and side-effects, up to and including death, which are by far more common and/or more severe than the actual health risks involved in vaccination. In the past 20 years, 2 Americans died from measles, both people with compromised immune systems. Also none, or late immunization, may create an immunization gap through which nearly extinct diseases can reenter a population (see e.g. Epidemiology of measles). If this gap can be closed (or made small enough), it is possible to make a disease extinct. This was actually successfully done with smallpox, and is now attempted with the poliovirus (Causing poliomyelitis, also known as infantile paralysis). A comic with poliovirus eradication as topic has been released.


[Four Cueball-like children wearing party hats, a discarded balloon is lying to the right. There is text above:]
we had a malaria party
[And there is text below:]
but it turned out not to be very much fun.


For unknown reasons, on January 18, 2006, 54: Science was posted on LiveJournal on the same day that this comic was released on xkcd.com. Three days later, on January 21, 2006, this comic was posted on LiveJournal, thus forcing the next two comics (52: Secret Worlds and 53: Hobby) to be released on xkcd.com two days before LiveJournal. Four days later, on January 25, 2006, 54: Science was finally posted on xkcd.com, which fixed the date discrepancies and allowed the next comic, 55: Useless, to be published on the same day across both sites.

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They look to be standing up. The black flecks appear to be confetti, and they are all at or below foot level. Their feet and arms do not give the impression of corpses. 15:11, 24 June 2015 (UTC)

This entire thing is off. Does anyone else notice that there is no vaccine against Malaria? Thus, the entire discussion about vaccines is pointless. Time for me to do some editing! 15:22, 17 October 2015 (UTC)

I don't know if this was part of the explanation that was removed, but as the comic and the explanation allude to and include pox parties, which are often done for infectious diseases that can be vaccinated against, I decided to re-add some vaccination information. I think it ia as much a topic of the comic as Malaria, which is why I put it in a seperate section, similar to the malaria information. Also I think the fact that there is one single time where humanity actually has to be applauded for making something go extinct was in my opinion interesting and cool enough to be included, even if it's perhaps one step removed from the actual comic itself. I actually had to hold myself back to not include a whole story about how they found out that for some wierd reason milkmaids would way more seldom get sick than other people, and find out that most of them had had cowpox, which is relatively harmless (especially in comparison with something like smallpox)and create the first vaccination from the cowpox variant. Actually the word vaccination comes from vacca, the latin ord for cow... so cool. 04:55, 16 July 2017 (UTC)

The explanation now isn’t much different than the explanation before, most of it was added back later. You can see exactly what was changed with View History. Yes, I know this is from two years ago. Netherin5 (talk) 14:13, 21 March 2019 (UTC)

Surely the joke is that malaria can't be transmitted from one human to another, so being around someone infected with malaria at a "malaria party" wouldn't expose you? It's not contagious, you have to get it from a mosquito, so hanging out with infected humans as depicted would be pointless. -- (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

This definitely needs to be mentioned. Calion (talk) 18:28, 19 February 2023 (UTC)

Do you think the joke could be that a malaria party would involve getting bitten by mosquitos? DownGoer (talk) 00:26, 26 June 2023 (UTC)

I’m not sure I agree with the “missing celebrant.” A missing celebrant wouldn’t necessarily leave a deflated balloon in their wake. DownGoer (talk) 00:26, 26 June 2023 (UTC)