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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Panama: The Canal and the Hat

When someone mentions Panama, you think of two things, hats and the canal. The two are related, one having created the name of the other.

Panama hats are from Ecuador, but got their name from their popularity during the construction of the canal. Once you've handled or worn one of the hats, it's easy to see why they were so popular in this hot, wet climate. The hats are amazinly light, and spring back into shape instantly. Pack one flat, roll it up and tuck it in your back pocket and sit on it, it doesn't seem to matter what you do it, it survives in its original shape and condition.

The canal itself, while a great engineering feat, is really a tribute to preventive medicine. Walter Reed eradicated yellow fever from the area by draining swamps and any other standing water he could find, distributing mosquito nets to everyone, and installing screens in houses.

As with malaria, the mostquito must bite an infected person to acquire the disease and transmit it. If fewer people are bitten, fewer infected people are available to be bitten, and the disease finally dies off. Malaria doesn't thrive in the US, although the anopholes mosquito is common, but we don't have many infected people.

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