Patrick Manson

(1844—1922) physician and parasitologist

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(1844–1922) British physician

Manson was the son of a local laird and farmer in Oldmeldrum, Scotland. He studied medicine at Aberdeen University, obtaining his MD in 1866. He then became a medical officer, firstly in Formosa (1866–71) and then for a further 13 years in Amoy. Manson completed his 23 years' service in the Far East by running a profitable private practice in Hong Kong until 1889. Back in Britain he set up as a consultant in London, served as medical adviser to the Colonial Office from 1897 to 1912, and was the prime mover in the foundation of the London School of Tropical Medicine in 1899. In 1914 Manson finally retired to Ireland, where he spent his last years fishing on Lough Mask in Galway.

Manson was an original and creative scientist. His greatest achievement was to demonstrate conclusively what had long been suspected, namely, that certain diseases are transmitted by insects. His first success, in 1877, was to link the mosquito Culex fatigans with the presence of the parasite Filaria sanguinis hominis (FSH) in many of his patients suffering from elephantiasis. Full details of the life cycle of the FSH were published later in 1884. The clinical effects of the parasites, which eventually obstruct the lymphatic system, he published in his monograph, The Filaria sanguinis hominis, and Certain New Forms of Parasitic Disease (1883).

With this success behind him Manson was able to throw considerable light on a wide range of further tropical diseases. He thus made numerous suggestions on the mode of transmission of such widespread diseases as sleeping sickness and bilharzia. He also played a crucial role in the working out of the etiology and spread of the biggest killer of all, malaria. It was Manson who suggested to Ronald Ross in 1894 that mosquitoes carry malaria, who guided Ross throughout his research, and who, in 1900, performed one of the crucial experiments confirming his earlier hypothesis.

Manson used mosquitoes of the species Anopheles maculipennis, which were sent him by Giovanni Grassi from Rome, and allowed them to feed on his son Patrick Manson, then a medical student at Guy's Hospital, London. Within 15 days his son had developed malaria and parasites were clearly visible in his blood.

For such work Manson was elected to the Royal Society in 1900 and knighted in 1903. But although Ross was awarded the 1902 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine for his work on malaria, Manson was surprisingly ignored.

Subjects: Science and Mathematics — Public Health and Epidemiology.

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