Mosquito, More than a Bug: What is Malaria?

Author Edward Borton , 20-Aug-2020

Table of contents
Anopheles mosquito sucking blood

Anopheles mosquito, a vector of Malaria


In one-half of the world, the mosquito is seen by most as a minor annoyance, but for others, mosquitoes are synonymous with disease, pain, and death. Today is World Mosquito Day and the perfect reminder of the devastating impact of such diseases as MalariaZika, and various kinds of Encephalitis for which mosquitoes are a major vector.

Malaria – a Headline Disease Associated with the Mosquito

Malaria is the headline disease associated with mosquitoes, and it was on this very day in 1897 that Sir Ronald Ross discovered that female mosquitoes could transmit malaria to humans. This was a major breakthrough in tackling the disease, yet despite significant progress over 100 years, it is still the cause of tens of thousands of deaths yearly, with annual case numbers on a steady incline.

Worldwide Malaria cases graph Worldwide Malaria deaths graph

‘Bad Air’ of the Ancients

Malaria dates back thousands of years. Ancestral evidence found in 30-million-year-old amber shows that mosquitoes plagued humans from the earliest civilizations. It started having a significant impact on human survival roughly 10,000 years ago at the start of agriculture, and even Cleopatra is reputed to have slept under a mosquito net – though likely to avoid bites in general, rather than a preventative measure for the disease. Given the disease’s age, it is no surprise it has been referenced under many different names, such as Roman Fever and ‘Bad Air’ (Mal Aria), from which the modern name is derived. Medical professionals throughout history have been interested in this severe illness.

A Brief History of Drugs Used to Treat It

The most effective early drug was centered around Quinine, known since the 16th century and made from ground cinchona “fever” tree bark. Successfully synthesized in the early 20th century, it is the precursor to such drugs as Chloroquine. The revolutionary Methylene Blue – the first synthetic antimalarial – was developed by Heinrich Caro. It helped differentiate between blood cells and the nuclei of malarial parasites. This was a significant breakthrough in identifying the disease in a world without advanced microscopes. The global medical community was thrilled to see this innovation.

Prevention of Fever and Encephalitis Related to Malaria

The prevalence of the disease led to many efforts to try and prevent infection, but it wasn’t until Sir Ross proved the female mosquito as the vector in 1897 that targeted efforts could be made to limit contact to mosquitoes, along with improving medicines. Nowadays, mosquito nets, insect repellents, and regular anti-insect medicines are commonplace in homes across the globe. The killing of mosquitoes was even cited as a selling point for the ill-fated insecticide DDT.

The United States was certified as “malaria-free” by the World Health Organisation in 1970, but even so, over 1,000 cases are reported every year, virtually all imported from other countries.

Malaria cases in United States graph

While it is a preventable and curable disease, it is worth taking extra protection measures when traveling to high-risk areas, such as central Africa or India. A combination of symptoms such as headache, back pain, chills, sweating, myalgia, nausea, and vomiting can be unpleasant, to say the least!

Malaria worldwide endemic distribution map



The GIDEON Difference in Public Health

GIDEON is one of the most well-known and comprehensive global databases for infectious diseases. Data is refreshed daily, and the GIDEON API allows medical professionals and researchers access to a continuous stream of data. Whether your research involves quantifying data like cases of those infected, learning about specific microbes, or testing out differential diagnosis tools– GIDEON has you covered with a program that has met standards for accessibility excellence.

Edward Borton

Edward is a creative writer and editor currently helping GIDEON create insightful, compelling, and educational content to help bring the most out of GIDEON's data. Having worked in the IT, engineering, and medical industries, Edward has edited and authored promotional, academic, and professional pieces focused on engaging the reader and translating highly technical concepts into plain English.

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