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Van Helsing's nemesis wasn't so impressive

Sean Ruck, Contributing Editor | October 08, 2010

Manson had a ready volunteer in his servant Huito. Hutio had filariasis and by studying mosquitoes gorged on his blood, Manson was able to confirm his suspicions.

“I shall not easily forget the first mosquito I dissected. I tore off its abdomen and succeeded in expressing the blood the stomach contained,” Manson stated in his journals. “Placing this under the microscope, I was gratified to find that, so far from killing the filaria, the digestive juices of the mosquito seemed to have stimulated it to fresh activity.”

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For being so close to the target, Manson ultimately fell just short with part of his deduction. He believed the mosquitoes transferred the disease from victim to victim by laying eggs and contaminating drinking water. It would be a few years before Thomas Bancroft would posit the theory that the infection was transmitted directly by the insects when they fed on blood.

Still, Manson had made a major impact and had many other discoveries to his credit. He would go on to discover the lung fluke and a number of skin diseases, and his theories and research would contribute significantly to the discovery of the mosquito’s role in malaria.

He published the highly regarded Tropical Diseases: A Manual of the Diseases of Warm Climates, founded the world’s first school of tropical medicine in England and helped found the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine in 1907, serving as its first president. He received a knighthood in 1903 and continued his travels and lecturing for years after his retirement, giving his last address at the School of Tropical Medicine in London, just two weeks before his death at the age of 77.

It would be no exaggeration to credit Manson’s research with savings thousands of lives since his momentous discoveries and to rightfully name him the Father of Tropical Medicine.

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