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 triva section below.

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


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.


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)