A retrospective analysis was performed of parasite count data recorded from the first 7 days of blood or mosquito transmitted Plasmodium falciparum infections given for the treatment of neurosyphilis in the USA before 1963. The objective of this study was to characterize initial growth dynamics before host defences have significant effects on the infecting parasite population. Of the 328 patients' data available for analysis, 83 were excluded because they had received anti-malarial treatment during the first 7 days of the patent infection. Nonlinear mixed effects modelling was performed to estimate the parameters of interest; 'parasite multiplication rate per 4 h' (PMR), and length of the parasite life-cycle (periodicity). The parasitaemia versus time profiles showed great variability between patients. The mean population estimate of 'PMR' was approximately 8, and was highly dependent on the P. falciparum 'strain'. PMR also varied significantly between patients with a 90% prediction interval varying from 5.5 to 12.3-fold. Both intrinsic parasite multiplication rate (an intrinsic virulence determinant), and host susceptibility and defence contribute to expansion of the parasite biomass and thus disease severity in falciparum malaria.