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The Roman fever: observations on the understanding of malaria in the ancient Roman world

Milton J Micallef
Med J Aust 2016; 205 (11): 501-503. || doi: 10.5694/mja16.00206
Published online: 12 December 2016

Ancient Roman hypotheses about the transmission of malaria were ahead of their time

The modern understanding of malaria dates to the late 19th century, encompassing the description of malarial parasites by French physician Alphonse Laveran in 1880, the explanation of how the parasite enters an organism by Briton Sir Ronald Ross in 1897, and the germ theory of disease expounded by Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch.1 These developments quashed the hitherto prevalent notions of “telluric” (soil-related) or “miasmatic” (airborne) factors in transmitting malaria; nevertheless, the name “malaria” — from the Italian for “bad air” — has persisted since its first use in 1560/61.2

  • Milton J Micallef1,2

  • 1 Hunter New England Local Health District, Newcastle, NSW
  • 2 University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW


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