51: Malaria

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Jump to: navigation, search
The malaria party was David's idea.
Title text: The malaria party was David's idea.


This comic humorously considers pox parties as a means of preventing malaria. In these "parties," adults bring their children to deliberately expose them to a communicable disease to promote immunity. This is commonly done for a childhood disease like chickenpox and measles instead of vaccination.

In this comic, we see four Cueball-like children in party hats with a balloon lying on the ground, suggesting a missing "celebrant."

Some illnesses are more serious for adults than children. For example, chickenpox is far less severe contracted as a child than as an adult, the latter sometimes ending in sterility, brain damage, or worse. (Note that shingles is not adult-onset chickenpox, but a condition occasionally developed by older people who previously had chickenpox.) Having caught chickenpox once, a person's immune system has developed antibodies, reducing vulnerability to the virus. The antibodies create immunity for a significant period of time, possibly life. However, immunity through antibody creation is not usually an effective strategy against malaria. Contrarily, once one has suffered from malaria, it can recur on its own, even after apparent healing from symptoms. Thus, having a malaria party would not be a useful exercise, as many could suffer significant illness and die.

The title text blames "David" for the party, referencing the idea of children blaming each other for an idea that turns out poorly. A malaria party is likely to have more severe consequences than, for instance, a group of 10 year olds building a ski ramp in the backyard. Also it could be a reference to the Bible: when King David has to choose between three Threads, he chooses a disease for the whole people, lasting 3 days.


Malaria is a Mosquito-borne disease of humans and other animals caused by protists (a type of microorganism) of the genus Plasmodium. It begins with a bite from an infected female mosquito, which introduces the protists via its saliva into the circulatory system, and ultimately to the liver where they mature and reproduce. The disease causes symptoms that typically include fever and headache, which in severe cases can progress to coma or death.


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).


[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.


  • This was the 49th comic originally posted to LiveJournal.
  • This comic kept its original title: "Malaria"
  • It is part of the last six comics on LiveJournal which all had a title without the word "Drawing" in it.
    • Five of these had exactly the same title on both sites.
    • Only 11 comics have the same title on both sites.
    • Apart from the thirteen first comics posted to LiveJournal, there were only three other comics without the word "Drawing" in the title before these last six.
  • Original Randall quote: "Current Mood: Credit to David for this one"
    • In this version, he gave David credit. The title text seems more like he blames him for the idea.
  • This comic was one of the last 11 comics posted on LiveJournal.
  • For some reason, 54: Science was posted before this one on LiveJournal on the 18th of January 2006, but a week later on xkcd, on the 25th of January 2006.
    • So 51: Malaria was released on xkcd the same day as 54: Science came out on LiveJournal on Wednesday the 18th of January 2006.
    • It then came out on LiveJournal three days later on Saturday the 21th of January 2006.
    • The release date here on explain xkcd uses the first release date, the one on xkcd.
  • After the mishap with 54: Science, the next three comics came out on LiveJournal a day later.
    • First with the last comic released on LiveJournal, 55: Useless, did the two sites release the same comic on the same day again.

comment.png add a comment! ⋅ comment.png add a topic (use sparingly)! ⋅ Icons-mini-action refresh blue.gif refresh comments!


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)