The Unsung Hero’s of Medicine

Medical science has never produced a more Nobel and Selfless group of investigators, then the pathologists and parasitologists who risked, and all too often lost their lives in trying to conquer the world’s most pernicious diseases in late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Hippocrates is considered to be the father of modern medicine because in his books, which are more than 70, he described in a scientific manner, many diseases and their treatment after detailed observation but who are the others, not so commonly known for their ultimate sacrifice?

The William Harvey Memorial Statue is in Langhorne Gardens, Folkestone, Kent, recognising and celebrating the life of William Harvey. William Harvey was born in Folkestone, Kent, on 1 April 1578. William Harvey was an English physician who was the first to accurately describe the human circulatory system and the manner in which the heart pumps blood throughout the body and the hospital in Ashford Kent is named after him – well known across Kent and the UK medical community. 

But what of others, who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the name of medical discovery and science?

These are the names of just some of the people that subjected themselves to infection, to learn, discover and try to solve the crisis of disease leading to debilitation and death. Ultimately, in their role they became exposed to something they would not of fully understood, to educate the world on how to save lives for ever.

Whilst there are still many nasty horrible parasites out there, we should take a moment to think about the people who gave there life for research just so we can live in a better world. Its not that many other people have gave there lives for example going to war, but we remember these people, we tend to not even be aware of the bravery and heroic figures of medicine. Here below is 4 examples, but the list is endless;

Theodor Bilharz (1825-1862)

 Theodor Bilharz was a German physician and scientist best known for his discovery of the parasite responsible for causing schistosomiasis, a disease also known as bilharziaThe German scientist is one of the founders of tropical Medicine. He studied medicine at the Universities of Heidelberg, Munich, and Bonn, earning his medical degree in 1847. He played a big role by discovering the Schistosomiasis worm while in Europe at that time the focus of research was on the life history of tape-worms. Schistosomiasis was a major killer of the Egyptian people. Bilharz personal life was strongly connected with infectious diseases. Tragically, Bilharz’s life was cut short at the age of 42. He died on May 9, 1862, in Cairo, Egypt, due to complications from typhoid fever. Despite his relatively short life, his discovery has had a lasting impact on the field of tropical medicine and parasitology. Overall, Theodor Bilharz’s discovery of the parasite responsible for schistosomiasis remains one of the most significant contributions to the field of tropical medicine and parasitology.


Jesse Lessir (1866 -1900)

Studied the bacteriology of tropical diseases, particularly malaria and yellow fever. Jesse William Lazear was born on May 2, 1866, in Baltimore, Maryland, United States. Lazear joined the U.S. Army Medical Corps and was stationed at the Army Yellow Fever Commission laboratory in Cuba. He dedicated his research to studying the transmission of tropical diseases, particularly malaria and yellow fever. He attended Johns Hopkins University, where he received his medical degree in 1892. In May Lazear became one of four members in a team, and the only one with experience in mosquito research. He began growing mosquito larvae from the laboratory. In Lazear’s breakthrough discovery, mosquitoes that had fed on an active case of yellow fever 12 days before did indeed transmit the disease to two volunteers during experiments in late August. “I rather think I am on the track of the real germ,” Lazear wrote on September 8, 1900.

About a week later, Lazear fell ill. He had not told his colleagues that he experimented on himself but notes he took at the time gave evidence that he did. Lazear died of yellow fever on September 25, 1900, at age 34.

Lazear’s sacrifice and contributions to the study of tropical diseases, especially his role in demonstrating the transmission of yellow fever by mosquitoes, were instrumental in advancing our understanding of these diseases. His work paved the way for subsequent research that led to the development of effective preventive measures and ultimately the control of yellow fever.

Jesse William Lazear’s dedication to studying tropical diseases, despite the personal risks involved, remains a testament to his commitment to advancing medical knowledge and improving public health.

Howard Taylor Ricketts (1871–1910)

The US American pathologist and microbiologist. He is renowned for discovering the causative organism and the transmission route of Rocky Mountain spotted fever and of tabardillo–an epidemic louse-borne typhus occurring especially in Mexico. He also found that both diseases were caused by related infectious agents (Rickettsia Rickettsii and Rickettsia prowazekii). The scientific community therefore named both a taxonomic family (Rickettsiaceae) and an order (Rickettsiales) after the scientist. Ricketts’ work on immunity and serums became the basis for further advances in vaccine development.

 Howard Taylor Ricketts was an American pathologist and microbiologist who made significant contributions to the understanding of various infectious diseases, particularly those caused by rickettsial bacteriaHoward Taylor Ricketts was born on February 9, 1871, in Findlay, Ohio, United States. He attended the University of Nebraska, where he received his undergraduate and medical degrees. Ricketts is best known for his discovery of the bacterium Rickettsia prowazekii, the causative agent of epidemic typhus. In 1909, while studying an outbreak of typhus in Mexico City, Ricketts identified the organism within the tissues of infected individuals, demonstrating its role in causing the disease.

Tragically, Howard Taylor Ricketts’ life and career were cut short when he died of typhus on May 3, 1910, at the age of 39. Despite his premature death, his research laid the foundation for the understanding and control of Rickettsial diseases. Today, Rickettsia prowazekii and other species of Rickettsia are named in his honor. Recognition: Ricketts’ contributions to science have been widely recognized posthumously. His work has had a lasting impact on the fields of microbiology, pathology, and infectious diseases, and he is remembered as one of the pioneers in the study of Rickettsial pathogens.


    Stanislaus von Prowazek 1875-1915

    Stanislaus von Prowazek was born on October 27, 1875, in the city of Graz, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He studied medicine at the University of Graz and later pursued further studies in Vienna. Prowazek’s research interests primarily focused on parasitic and bacterial infections. He conducted extensive studies on various infectious diseases, including syphilis, malaria, and trachoma.

     Stanislaus von Prowazek was an Austrian physician and microbiologist known for his contributions to the study of infectious diseases, particularly in the field of parasitology and bacteriologyIn 1913 and 1914 Prowazek travelled to Serbia and Constantinople, where typhus was raging. He made observations on the aetiology, mode of transmission, and life cycle of the parasite causing the disease, and devoted the last two years of his life to studying it. He found that epidemic typhus was caused by the same organism Howard Tayler Ricketts (1871)-1910) had previously described, now known as Rickettsia Prowazeki. He also described the Chalmydozoa. He himself died of typhus. In 1915

    Prowazek is perhaps best known for his collaboration with Howard Taylor Ricketts, an American pathologist. Together, they studied epidemic typhus during an outbreak in Serbia in 1910. Their research led to the identification of the bacterium Rickettsia prowazekii, which was named in honor of both scientists.

    Tragically, Stanislaus von Prowazek’s life was cut short at the age of 40. He died in 1915 during World War I while serving as a military physician on the Eastern Front. Despite his untimely death, Prowazek’s contributions to the understanding of infectious diseases continue to be recognized, and his name is commemorated through the species name of various pathogens, including Rickettsia prowazekii.

    Stanislaus von Prowazek’s work significantly advanced the field of microbiology and parasitology, particularly in understanding the etiology and transmission of infectious diseases. His collaboration with Howard Taylor Ricketts in the study of epidemic typhus was particularly influential in the identification of the causative agent of the disease.

    Source: The Body: A Guide for Occupants (Bryson, B 2019) and research.  

    For more reading on History of medicine, the development of the prevention and treatment of disease from prehistoric and ancient times to the 21st century.

    Without these inspiring individuals and hundreds like them, we would not have advances in medical equipment such as our mobile infected patients isolation facility


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