How 32 Types of Infectious Diseases Got Their Names

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Most infectious diseases got their names from Latin or Greek, from famous places, from scientists who discovered their origin or derived from a well-known infected person. There are many types of diseases that exist these days, but there are many decades or centuries old that were long forgotten or overshadowed by the most recent outbreaks. Here 32 diseases and the reason behind their names.

1.Bubonic Plague

Bubonic traces to Ancient Greek bourbon, meaning “groin” or “swelling”. Plague is from Latin plaga, meaning “wound”.


From Ancient Greek khlamus, which meant “cloack”. The bacteria thought to “cloack” the nuclei of infected cells.


Traces to an Ancient Greek word for “bile”, khloe, because the disease was thought to be caused by bile accumulation.



Name by a group of virologists in 1968. The spikes of the surface of the virus were thought to resemble the sun’s corona.


Through West Indian Spanish, traces to the Swahili word dinga, meaning “cramp”, in reference to the joint pain it causes.


A word coined by Hippocrates that literally means “bad bowels” in Ancient Greek. Borrowed into English through French and Latin.


After a tributary of the Congo River near where it was first observed in 1976. That name means “black” in Lingala.


Named after French zoologist Alfred Matthieu Giard, who was the first to describe the parasite causing the disease.



Traces to Ancient Greek gonos, meaning “semen”, and rhein, “to flow”, because urethral discharge was mistaken for semen.


Named after the Hantan river in South Korea, where it was first identified in 1976. That translates to “lament” in Korean.


Through Latin, this term traces to the Ancient Greek noun hepar, meaning “liver”, because the disease inflames the liver’s tissue.


Traces to the Ancient Greek verb herpein, which meant “creep” or “move slowly”. This is related to the English word serpent.


Stands for Human Papillomavirus; a papilloma is a tumor resembling a nipple. The word traces to Latin papilla, meaning “nipple”.


An Italian word meaning “influence”. Used on the notion that diseases are caused by astrological or godly influence.


Traces to the Ancient Greek verb lepein, which meant “to peel”, in reference to the skin lesions that are a common symptom.

16.Lyme Disease

First identified by a group of researchers in a coastal Connecticut town called Lyme. Originally called Lyme Arthritis.


From the Italian phrase mala aria, meaning “bad air”, because the disease was originally attributed to swamp fumes.


From Middle Dutch masel, meaning “blemish”, possibly with the influence of the Middle English word mesel, “leprosy”.


From an archaic word meaning “grimace”. Named in reference to the swelling of the salivary glands and difficulty chewing.



From Latin per-, meaning “very”, and tussis, meaning “cough”(similar to its more common name, whooping cough).


Traces to Latin rabere, which meant “to be mad”, because the disease causes aggressiveness. Related to the word “rage”.


From Latin rota, “wheel”. Coined in 1974 when a scientist noticed that the particle resembles a wheel under an electron microscope.


A late 19th century borrowing from a Latin word meaning “reddish”, referring to the color of the rash caused by the virus.


Pox is from Old English pocc, meaning “blister” or “ulcer”; small differentiates it from Great Pox, a nickname for syphilis.

25.Strep throat

Short for streptococcus, which is from Ancient Greek roots meaning “twisted” and “seed”, in reference to the bacterial chains.



After a shepherd in a 1530 Italian play name Syphilus who was said to be the first sufferer of the disease.


From Greek tetanos, which meant “tension” because the disease is often associated with muscular stiffness.


From Latin tuberculum, which means “small bump” because one symptom is that tiny nodules can grow on our lungs.


From Ancient Greek tuphein, which meant “to smoke”. The term was used by Hippocrates to describe muddled intellect.


Traces to Latin varius, which here meant “spotted”. The nickname chickenpox might be from the chicken peck-like rashes it leaves.

31.Yellow fever

The disease is characterised by jaundice, in which the skin, eyes, and membranes of patients take on a yellowish discoloration.


Named after the forest of Uganda where it was discovered in 1947. Ultimately means “overgrown” in the Luganda language.


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