Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sir Patrick Manson

Sir Patrick Manson was born in Oldmeldrum, Aberdeenshire, Scotland on October 3, 1844, the second of nine children in his family. At the age of 15 he was apprenticed to an iron worker related to his mother. Soon after his health broke down and he was forced to spend all but two hours of the day in bed. These two hours he spent studying natural science. Frustrated in his attempt to earn a living as an iron worker he turned to study medicine entering Aberdeen University in 1860, finishing his final examinations by the time he was 20.

In 1866 Manson took a position as a medical officer in Formosa (Taiwan). It was here that Manson began his life long work studying tropical diseases. He remained in Formosa for five years after which he took a position as a medical officer in Amoy, an island 300 miles north of Hong Kong. In Amoy Manson was in charge of the hospital for seamen and a missionary hospital. Prejudice against western medicine was rife among the native population and consequently very few of the native Chinese trusted Manson to operate on them. One young man so overcome by his large elephantoid tumor came to Manson after attempting suicide by swallowing arsenic. Manson was able to remove the tumor and save the young man's life. Rumors of his success spread through the native population, causing a greater demand for his services.

In 1875 Manson went to London to learn more about the causes of elephantitis and chyluria. In London however there was no school that taught about tropical illnesses. His only discovery was an written account in the British Museum by Timothy Lewis, describing the discovery of microscopic worms in the blood and urine of patients with chyluria in Calcutta, India. Armed with this knowledge Manson guessed correctly that there must be another animal that carried the disease. He tested his hypothesis by feeding mosquitoes with the blood of his servant who had the disease and upon dissecting the mosquitoes he found the parasites. Although he thought that mosquitoes passed on the parasites by dying and leaving the parasites in drinking water and not transferring them by biting humans, Manson was the first to identify mosquitoes as a vector for disease.

Over one million people die each year from mosquito borne diseases. When female mosquitoes bite humans (only female mosquitoes bite humans) they inject anti-coagulants, to prevent the human's blood from clotting. With the anti-coagulants infected mosquitoes will also inject viruses and parasites. Diseases spread by mosquitoes include the malaria and helminthiasis (the cause of elephantitis) parasites, and the viruses that cause yellow and dengue fevers.

In 1883 Manson traveled to Hong Kong where he was the force behind the founding of the Medical School of Hong Kong. In 1889 Manson left Asia with the hope of retiring to Scotland. His finances proved inadequate and he returned to London where he began a practice, passing the examination for the Royal College of Physicians within a year. In 1894 Manson published a paper in which he suggested that mosquitoes might be the vector for malaria. This hypothesis would stimulate Ronald Ross into a frenzy of research nailing down the life cycle of the malarial parasite. In 1897 Manson was appointed medical officer to the Colonial Office. There he was able to able to institute many reforms which improved the health of British colonial officers. Also in 1897 Manson published a book on tropical diseases which for many years was the standard reference on the subject. For his discoveries and work in founding medical schools Manson is hailed as the father of tropical medicine.

A lifelong sufferer from gout, Manson succumbed to the disease on April 9, 1922.


Hale-White, Sir William; Great Doctors of the Nineteenth Century; Ayer Publishing; 1970

Jay, Venita; "Sir Patrick Manson: the Father of Tropical Medicine"; Archives of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine (2000)124:1594-1595

Sir Patrick Manson Wikipedia Entry

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