From universal rats to future jungle foci: actors and places of plague in Brazil (1899-1940s)

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


This chapter examines the history of plague in Brazil and its internalization in the country in the first half of the twentieth century, paying equal attention to global dynamics of plague studies and how Brazil interacted with them. Firstly, the chapter discusses plague as a problem located in the Brazilian ports and how Brazil took part in a global war against the rats. The chapter then discusses the internalization of plague in different rural and wild settings around the world and the emergence of the idea of sylvatic plague—the plague among wild rodents living in desertic environments. The chapter moves back to Brazil in the 1930s, when plague became a rural disease in the North-East of the country, examining important studies on the role of rats and wild rodents spreading the disease there. Finally, the chapter explores the growing fears in the 1940s that the plague could invade the Amazon and other rainforest regions. The chapter argues that during most of these fifty years, plague was framed in Brazil as a global scourge because its main spreaders, domestic rats, were seen as a universal menace present in every port and rural area of the world. It was only at the end of the period examined in the chapter that it gained a tropical dimension in Brazil, when the idea of sylvatic plague started to be understood as jungle plague, which constituted an original reinterpretation of the concept.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEmpire, nation-building, and the age of tropical medicine, 1885–1960
EditorsMauro Capocci, Daniele Cozzoli
Place of PublicationCham
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9783031388057
ISBN (Print)9783031388040, 9783031388071
Publication statusPublished - 21 Feb 2024

Publication series

NameMedicine and biomedical sciences in modern history
ISSN (Print)2947-9142
ISSN (Electronic)2947-9150


  • Plague
  • Brazil
  • Animal reservoirs
  • Zoonosis


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