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[Ronald Ross: a century of the transfer of malaria by mosquitoes].

  • Janssens, P G
Published Article
Verhandelingen - Koninklijke Academie voor Geneeskunde van België
Publication Date
Jan 01, 1998
PMID: 9989333


Ronald Ross is a brilliant and polyvalent mind. When orientated towards medicine he took the training amateurishly and ended up with a limited qualification. After 2 years as a ship doctor, he attended the compulsory complementary training in order to be admissible in the IMS, the garrison life left him with plenty of time to engage in his hobby's: painting for a short while, writing, poetry and mathematics. By the end of his first term he questioned the sense of his medical activities and decided, with a view to his career, to acquire a Public Health diploma and some complementary bacteriology. During his second term the malaria problem drew his attention. As he was unable to detect the parasite of Laveran in the blood of patients with malarial fevers he concluded that the parasite had been some lucky microscopic finding without any value and turned this parasite into ridicule. During his leave in 1894 he met Manson, who showed him the technique to put the parasite in evidence and convinced him to search for its vector which, to his opinion, should be a mosquito. Ross decided to follow this lead. With his minimal parasitological knowledge and an entomological background limited to the external appearance of mosquitoes he endeavoured to establish the life cycle of the malarial parasites. Notwithstanding some service bounded transfers, he followed the fate of the filaments of the crescents and discovered the parasite on the stomachwall of dapled-winged mosquitoes. During his special mission in Calcutta and in the absence of suitable malaria infections in man he shifted to bird proteosoma (now P. relictum) with a grey mosquito (culex) as vector. He demonstrated the complete life-cycle ending in the salivary glands of the mosquitoes and succeeded in transmitting this infection by mosquito-bites in healthy birds. This climax in his research was crowned by the attribution in 1902 of the Nobel Prize for Medicine. In the mean time he resigned from the IMS and was appointed as "Lecturer on Tropical Diseases" at the Liverpool School. He reoriented his activities to the prevention of malaria by control of the vector in its aquatic larval stage, which he tried out and promoted during his journeys to the West African Coast and other countries. His current were variegated but without salient details. Through the survey of the parasite index and the assessment of the spleen rate in children he founded the malariometry as a epidemiological tool, focussed attention on the relation of malaria and the community and on the complexity of the transmission dynamics. By handing in his resignation at the Liverpool School and moving to London he hampered further his scientific productivity. The tardy foundation of the Ross Institute did not stimulate a new impetus. He suffered a stroke which left him partially crippled an he died in his Institute.

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