A couple of days ago I posted this map of malaria in the USA. It got picked up by Grant Jacobs, who made some interesting and useful comments, and that in turn got picked up by someone who posted it to boingboing.net.  Unfortunately, whoever wrote it up for boingboing tried to add some value by offering a couple of points on the history of malaria, both of which were wrong. 1 In particular, he claimed that “It wasn’t until 1908 that a Cuban doctor made the connection with mosquitoes”.  To set the record straight:

RECENT researches by Surgeon Major Ronald Ross have shown that the mosquito may be the host of parasites of the type of that which causes human malaria. Ross has distinctly proved that malaria can be acquired by the bite of a mosquito, and the results of his observations have a direct bearing on the propagation of the disease in man. Dr P. Manson describes the investigations in a paper in the British Medical Journal, and sums them up as follows: –The observation tend to the conclusion that the malaria parasite is for the most part a parasite of insects; that it is only an accidental and occasional visitor to man; that not all mosquitos are capable of subserving it; that particular species of malaria parasites demand particular species of mosquitos; that in this circumstance we have at least a partial explanation of the apparent vagaries of the distribution of the varieties of malaria. When the whole story has been completed, as it surely will be at no distant date, in virtue of the new knowledge thus acquired we shall be able to indicate a prophylaxis for malaria of a practical character, and one which may enable the European to live in climates now rendered deadly by this pest.

Nature, Sept. 1898.  p. 523

The earliest probable reference I can find2 is from 1896:
The Goulstonian Lectures on the Life History of the Malaria Germ Outside the Human Body. P. Manson. The British Medical Journal, 1896

Update: I just realized what the boingboing.net poster had in mind with his comment that “It wasn’t until 1908 that a Cuban doctor made the connection with mosquitoes”: He was thinking about yellow fever, a virus rather than a parasite. Here and there about the web it’s suggested that yellow fever was shown to be mosquito-borne, in 1908, by a Cuban doctor, Carlos Finlay.  Unfortunately that’s also not correct; it probably was originally a typo somewhere that got spread around.

Finlay (who was, I believe, American, though he worked in Cuba) originally published his observations in 18813 and then in English in 18891886.4  His theory wasn’t immediately accepted, but by 1900 it was confirmed by a medical commission that included the famous Walter Reed.


  1. Also, he didn’t credit me, which is probably for the best, since my pathetic hosting would have undoubtedly crashed[]
  2. I haven’t read the text of this yet[]
  3. C. Finlay. El mosquito hipoteticamente considerado como agente de trasmislon de la flebre amarllla. An. de la Real Academia de ciencias med. … de la Habana, vol. 18, pp. 147-169 (Aug 14 1881) []
  4. C. Finlay. Yellow Fever, its transmission by means of the Culex mosquito. Am. Journ. Med. Sci. vol. 92, pp. 395-409 (1886) []