Climate Calamity: Lice, Typhus, and Gender in Mexico


Barbers shave head as part of anti-typhus campaign in Mexico

From Nursing Clio by Rocio Gomez:

By tucking themselves away in the corners of beds and the folds of clothes, insects have long evolved alongside humans. Mites, ticks, fleas, bedbugs, lice—they all feast happily on blood, leaving humans with the itchy, irritating aftermath. In the first half of the twentieth century, rural parasitic insects gained a foothold in the largely agriculture-based population in Mexico.

This rise in insects as vectors of disease was not by coincidence. The country suffered from long droughts throughout the early twentieth century, leading to an increase in the parasite population.1 Among the parasites, the simple louse ravaged the countryside with typhus in central Mexico through recurring epidemics.

The era became part of family memory, even as migration to the cities grew exponentially after the 1950s. Grandmothers and great-aunts whisper of the “época del tifo,” or “the era of typhus.” Older Mexican women recall the threat of losing their braids in the name of preventative measures as many rural schools attempted to contain vectors by shaving students’ heads. The onset of typhus in early twentieth-century central Mexico reveals both the effects of climate on a vulnerable population and how disease influences constructions of gender.

Read the rest of the article at Nursing Clio

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