How did malaria get its name?
The word “malaria” comes from Italian, “mala aria” which literally translates to “bad air”. This came from the ancient association, traced back as far as the ancient Greeks and Romans, that the disease was associated with swampy, marshy areas where the air smelled bad.
The mechanism of transmission was not known back then, nor did they know anything about infectious disease agents like bacteria, viruses or the single-celled protozoa like what causes malaria. So they believed it was the air itself that caused the infection, hence giving malaria its name. The protozoan which causes malaria was not discovered until 1880 when Charles Louis Alphonse Laveran observed the parasites in a patient; it was a few years later, in 1897/1898, that Ronald Ross discovered that mosquitoes transmitted malaria between human hosts. He won a Nobel Prize for this discovery in 1902.