Review of Anopheles Mosquitoes and Malaria in Ancient and Modern Egypt  

Mohamed A. Kenawy
Department of Entomology, Faculty of Science, Ain Shams University, Abbassia, Cairo 11566, Egypt
Author    Correspondence author
Journal of Mosquito Research, 2015, Vol. 5, No. 4   doi: 10.5376/jmr.2015.05.0004
Received: 07 Jan., 2015    Accepted: 28 Feb., 2015    Published: 27 Mar., 2015
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Preferred citation for this article:

Kenawy, 2015, Review of Anopheles Mosquitoes and Malaria in Ancient and Modern Egypt, Journal of Mosquito Research, Vol.5, No.4 1-8 (doi: 10.5376/jmr.2015.05.0004)


This article reviews and discusses the status of Anopheles mosquitoes and malaria in ancient and modern Egypt based on the available and scattered reports. Eleven Anopheles species are present in Egypt of which An. pharoensis and An. sergentii are the proven vectors. The two vectors with their chara­cteristics of zoophilic tendency, low infectivity rates and relatively short longevity convey the unstable type of malaria prevailed in Egypt. The immunologic tests on the Egyptian mummies confirmed the high prevalence of P. falciparum malaria in ancient Egypt.Malaria was endemic in almost all parts of the country but prevalence has shown a steady decrease by 1990,and regressed in most of the Governorates. Then by the end of 1998 till now all reportedcases areimported mainly from Sudan. However, some locally acquired cases were reported in El Faiyoum and Cairo. Moreover, the recent outbreak of falciparum (1 case) and vivax (23 cases) that occurred (May 2014) in Aswan Governorate strongly indicates that malaria is reemerging in the country.

Anopheles mosquitoes; Malaria vectors; Ancient Egypt; Modern Egypt

Egypt in north Africa lies between latitudes 22° and 32°N, and longitudes 25° and 35°E at 1,001,450 square kilometers and with about 90 million inhabitants. Due to the aridity of its climate, the majority of people live along the narrow Nile Valley and Delta, i.e. about 99% of the population uses only about 5.5% of the total land area (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 2015, Egypt is bordered by Libya to the west, the Sudan to the south, and the Gaza Strip and Israel to the east. Apart from the Nile Valley, the majority of Egypt's landscape is deserts (the Western Dessert as part of the Libyan Desert and the Eastern Desert) which are sparsely inhabited and with several scattered oases (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 2015, namely: El Faiyoum, Siwa, El Gara, El Farfra, El Bahariya, and El Dakhla and El Kharga " New Valley".
Ancient Egypt refers to the civilization of the lower Nile Valley between the First Cataract " south of Aswan" and the mouths of the Nile Delta, from circa 3300 B.C. until the conquest of Alexander the Great in 332 B.C. (New World Encyclopedia, 2009,, last modified on May 2013). The history of ancient Egypt proper starts with Egypt as a unified state, which occurred sometime around 3000 B.C., though evidence indicates a developed Egyptian society may have existed for a much longer period (New World Encyclopedia, 2009,, last modified on May 2013)
Mosquitoes were mostly nuisance for ancient Egyptians rather than a deadly danger (Ancient Egyptian bestiary: Mosquitoes, 2002,, updated 2007). In modern Egypt, mosquitoes were infrequently surveyed starting from 1903 by Ross in Suez Canal area and continued after that till 1981 by Khalil (Kenawy, 1988). Such surveys were followed by those of El Said and Kenawy (1983a, 1983b), Harbach et al. (1988), Cope et al. 1995), Abdel-Hamid et al. (2011, 2013) and Ammar et al. (2012). According to these surveys eighteen culicine and eleven anopheline species have been encountered in the different parts of Egypt. In addition, Kenawy (1988, 1990) reviewed the fauna of anophelline mosquitoes and their role as malaria carriers in Egypt from 1903 to 1987.
Since the establishment of the national malaria control program, the activities of the malaria units that are distributed in all Governorates are: 1. Malaria parasitological surveys through active and passive case detection (ACD and PCD, respectively), and 2. Entomological survey (mainly larvae) in an area of 4 Km2 surrounding each station. Today, activities are focused in El Faiyoum and Aswan in southern Egypt (parasitological examination of travellers coming from Sudan). Since 1970, malaria and mosquito surveys and control are carried out through the cooperation protocol between Egypt and Sudan Governorates.
According to Gad et al. (1982) and Harback et al. (1988), the potential habitats of the most common Anopheles species in Egypt are: 1. An. tenebrosus:surface water, fresh pools, drain channels mainly of other cultivation than the rice field, small water collections, borrow pits and sewage water, 2. An. pharoensis: the same breeding sites of An. tenebrosus but rice fields are the most favourable, (3) An. multicolour:mainly seepage and brackish pools having shallow, stagnant water and partially exposed to sunlight, (4) An. sergentii: mainly those having water either fresh or with moderate salinity, but prefers clean, shallow, stagnant or slow-moving water with vegetation especially the small water collections in grassy areas.
The knowledge about Anopheles species status in ancient Egypt are scarce and those in modern Egypt are scattered, so it was found important to have such review article. This report aimed at reviewing the available information on Anopheles mosquitoes and malaria in ancient and modern Egypt.
1 Material and Methods
The available published and unpublished reports on Anopheles mosquitoes and malaria in ancient Egypt were collected and reviewed. As much as possible, the available historical documents have been quoted in this paper. In addition, several web pages were accessed. The present situation of Anopheles mosquitoes and malaria in modern Egypt (based on Ministry of Health, MOH reports and other sources) was added and discussed.
Several articles related to Anopheles and malaria were searched of which 46 published articles were selected and reviewed on the basis of: 1. Anopheles species composition, habits and infection with malaria parasite, and 2. Malaria infection in Egyptian mummies and reported cases in modern Egypt. Moreover, 8 related web pages (2000-2015) were accessed.
2 Results
2.1 Mosquitoes in Ancient Egypt
To the Egyptians mosquitoes were a nuisance rather than a deadly danger (Ancient Egyptian bestiary: Mosquitoes, 2002, egypt/bestiary/mosquito.htm, updated 2007). The Satire of the Trades (also called The Instruction of Dua-Kheti, is an educational ancient Egyptian literature written during the middle Kingdom, between 2025 and 1700 B.C.) describes people working in the pools and ponds of the Delta as follow: "The reed-cutter travels to the Delta to get arrows; when he has done more than his arms can do, mosquitoes have slain him, gnats have slaughtered him, he is quite worn out" (Manniche, 1989). Although there are no available reports on mosquito species that prevailed in ancient Egypt, yet the malaria vector, Anopheles pharoensis may come from Egypt. The species name may originate from “Pharaoh”; a title recognized to the ancient Egyptian kings.
2.2 Mosquitoes in Modern Egypt
2.2.1 Species Composition
Eleven native Anopheles species, are present in Egypt (Figure 1), these are: 1. Anopheles (An.) tenebrosus Dönitiz: iscommon and widely distributed in the Nile delta especially in the northern part, Nile valley, El Faiyoum and Suez Canal Zone; 2. An. (An.) algeriensis Theoblad:is localized only in Siwa oasis,3. An. (Cellia) pharoensis Theoblad: is the most abundant and widely distributed species allover the country except Siwa oasis as this is not a rice cultivated area, the main breeding water for such species. However, in Sinai, it has a limited distribution;4. An. (Cel.) sergentii Theoblad: is a desert species occurring in all oases of the Western Desert where it is the predominant species, common in El Faiyoum, more abundant in southern than in northern Sinai and rare in the Red Sea area (Gad and Salit, 1972; Gad et al., 1984) and Nile Valley (Cope et al., 1995). It is not present in the Nile Delta and Suez Canal Zone, although its past occurrence in the Canal Zone (Barber and Rice, 1937)) and in the Nile Delta on the border of the desert at Inshas,Sharqiya Governorate in east of Delta (Farid, 1940); 5. An. (Cel.) multicolor Cambouliu:iswidely distributed throughout Egypt;6. An. (Cel.) superpictus Grassi: isdistributed inthe south-western oases (El Bahariya, El Dakhla and El Kharga) and Sinai; 7. An. (Cel.) turkhudi Liston,8. An. (Cel.) hispaniola Theoblad,9. An. (Cel.) d'thali Pattonand10. An. (Cel.) rhodesiensis rupicolus Lewis:all are restricted to Sinai, and 11. An. (Cel.) ainshamsi N. Sp. (Gad et al., 2006): in inland salt swamps at Shukeir on the Suez Gulf. The species was formerly collected from the same area and identified as An. (Cel.) stephensi Liston (Gad, 1967; Gad and Salit, 1972; El Said and Kenawy 1983a).


Figure 1 Geographical distribution of Anopheles mosquitoes in Egypt:1. An. tenebrosus, 2. An. algeriensis,3. An. pharoensis,4. An. sergentii,5. An. multicolor,6. An. superpictus,7. An. turkhudi,8. An. hispaniola,9. An. d'thali,10. An. rupicolus,11. An. ainshamsi

2.2.2 Malaria Vectors
Only An. pharoensis andAn.sergentii are the proven vectors. An.pharoensis is mainlyresponsible for Plasmodium vivaxtransmission while, An.sergentiiis responsible for P. falcipaum transmission in El Faiyoum (Kenawy, 1988). In addition, An.multicolor issuspected as a vector (Gad et al.,1964; Zahar,1974; Kenawy et al.,1986a).
An. pharoensiswas found naturally infected with malaria parasite, more exophilic than endophilic, more exophagic than endophagic and zoophagic rather than anthropophagic (Table 1). Based on the parity rate and gonotrophic cycle, El Said et al. (1986) estimated 0.76-0.81 as daily survival rate in El Faiyoumwhile a study from 1959 to 1962 in the southern part of the Nile Delta, the probability of survival through one day was 0.62 under DDT spraying (Zahar, 1974).Although it is the only vector in the Nile Delta, yet it is not so highly efficient. In spite of its great abundance and man biting rates during the favorable season, the percentage of epidemiologically dangerous aged females is low, i.e. those surviving to infective age under field condition for P. vivax and P. falciparum transmission were estimated to be 31.4% and 25.4% for the 2 Plasmodium species, respectively (Kenawy,1991). This may explain its low infectivity and degree of malaria transmission which is partly due to the short life span of the adults. Evidences such as the association of low sporozoite rate as 0.33% with high oocyst rate as 7.6% (Barber and Rice, 1937) in Nile Delta and El Faiyoum
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