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Nicolle, Charles (Jules Henri)

typhus louse vector infection

[neekol] (1866–1936) French microbiologist: identified the louse as the vector of typhus.

Nicolle became director of the Pasteur Institute in Tunis in 1902 and soon began to study the epidemic typhus fever there. The typhus fevers are a group of related diseases, long-known and worldwide, with a mortality of 10–70%; their causal pathogens are the rickettsias, which lie between bacteria and viruses in size and type. Nicolle’s success in combating typhus began when he noted that the victims infected others before they entered hospital but did not infect others when in hospital. He deduced that the path of infection was broken when they were separated from their clothing and cleaned, and guessed that the body louse was the vector. Experiments with monkeys proved his guess to be correct, and showed that the louse is only infective after taking blood from a victim and that it spread infection through its faeces. After this work (1909) vigorous attack on the lice has led to effective control. Nicolle’s later work on typhus showed that antibodies exist in recovered patients; and also after influenza and measles. He also discovered the ‘carrier’ state, important in immunology. Other rickettsial diseases (eg Rocky Mountain fever) are carried by ticks and by mites. Nicolle was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1928.

Nidetch, Jean - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact, Chronology: Jean Nidetch [next] [back] Nicol, William

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