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Finlay, Carlos Juan

Finlay, Carlos Juan

(b. Puerto Prínciple[now Camagüey], Cuba, 3 December 1833; d. Havana, Cuba, 20 August 1915)

medicine.

Finlay was the son of a Scotch father and a French mother whose family lived in Trinidad. An aunt who had a school in Edinburgh taught him at home until he was eleven; he then went to France for further, more formal schooling. There he developed severe chorea which left him with a speech impediment—a lisp—that he never lost. In 1851, having returned home to Cuba, he nearly died of typhoid fever. Undaunted, Finlay became and remained all his life an avid sportsman, swimmer, and horseback rider. Besides Spanish, he became fluent in English, French, and German.

Finlay attended Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, where he studied under Robley Dunglison and John K. Mitchell and his son, Weir. He graduated in 1855, rejecting lucrative offers to practice in the Spanish colony of New York City. After a brief trip to Peru, he settled in Havana, where he practiced general medicine and ophthalmology.

In Philadelphia, John Mitchell taught that malaria and other epidemic fevers were caused by living organism. In 1879 the U.S. Yellow Fever Commission in Havana concluded that yellow fever was transmissible and that its vector was probably airborne, would attack a person once only, and produced a specific, self-limiting disease. Finlay had written much about yellow fever as arising from telluric influences, miasmata, and meteorological conditions. He had theorized that filth was converted into some hypothetical vegetable-animal germ and had suggested that alkalinity of air caused yellow fever. Working closely with the Commission, he shortly suggested that the disease was transmitted by the household mosquito, Culex fasciatus, now called Aedes aegypti.

Finlay thought that the mosquito’s bill acted in transferring virus in the same way as a dirty needle acts in transferring hepatitis. He considered that the morbific cause of the disease was carried from the blood of an infected patient to a healthy person, but did not mention any change in the material thus transferred. From 1881 until 1898 he conducted 103 experiments wherein he induced mosquitoes to bite yellow fever patients and then bite healthy recent immigrants (who volunteered for the experiment, knowing that they would eventually get yellow fever anyway, since everyone did). The experiments lacked control, because none of Finlay’s subjects was kept within screens or away from patients who had yellow fever. From the protocols we know that yellow fever probably was not transmitted; nor were the experiments accepted by physicians and students of the disease in Cuba or elsewhere. Finlay became the laughingstock of the orthodox physicians of Havana.

Finlay thought that a mosquito which drew only a little blood and was only slightly infected would produce mild disease which would confer immunity. Although a shrewd observer and a splendid and kindly physician, he was not trained as an investigator and that he experimented at all was remarkable. When the Yellow Fever Board—Reed, Lazear, Agramonte, and Carroll—came to Havana in 1900 Finlay provided them with verified the diagnosis of epidemic and experimental yellow fever, an essential function, since there was no laboratory test.

In 1900 Walter Reed and the Board excluded filth as the route for infection, found that Sanarelli’s yellow fever bacillus was the familiar hog cholera organism, and showed that the virus was transmittable to the female mosquito from an affected patient only during the first two to three days of the course of the illness. The mosquito then must incubate the virus for about two weeks before her bite could infect a susceptible person.

Finlay was exactly right in naming the mosquito as the vector of the disease and in identifying the variety of mosquito. The precision of his hypothesis is admirable, but his ideas were neglected—as were the similar proposals made by Josiah Nott in Alabama in 1854. Perhaps in atonement for their rejection of his ideas, Cubans have made Finlay a national hero, an honor well deserved for the brilliant hypothesis that he staunchly stuck to against universal disbelief. Happily he lived to see it proved correct.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

I. Original Works. Finlay’s works have been collected as Obras completas, 4 vols. (Havana, 1965-1970).

II. Secondary Literature. The best biographical source is his son, Carlos E. Finlay, Carlos Finlay and Yellow Fever (New York, 1940). See also William B. Bean, “Carlos Finlay,” in Current Medical Digest, 37 (1970). 366-367; S. Bloom, Dr. Carlos J. Finlay (Havana, 1959); J.A. Del Regato, “Carlos Finlay and the Carrier of Death,” in Américas (May 1968); “Editorial. Carlos J. Finlay (1833-1915). Student of Yellow Fever,” in Journal of the American Medical Association, 198 (1966), 188-189. A further source of information on Finlay’s life and work is Cesar Rodriguez Exposito, Centenary of the Graduation of Dr. Carlos J. Finlay in Jefferson Medical College (Havana, 1956).

William B. Bean

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Carlos Juan Finlay

Carlos Juan Finlay

The Cuban physician and epidemiologist Carlos Juan Finlay (1833-1915) discovered that certain mosquitoes transmit yellow fever.

Carlos Juan Finlay was born in Camagüey Province on Dec. 3, 1833, of a Scottish father and a French mother. He spent his early years on his father's coffee plantation but soon was sent to school in France and England. From there he traveled to the United States, where he received a degree in medicine at Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia, in 1855. He returned to Cuba and began to practice medicine after revalidating his degree at the University of Havana. From Cuba he traveled to Peru, Trinidad, and France, working in various hospitals. In 1870 he settled in Cuba permanently, developing an interest in the island's sanitary and health problems.

When, in 1879, an American mission arrived in Cuba to study the causes of yellow fever, the Spanish government designated Finlay to work with the group. He developed the idea that the transmission of yellow fever required a vector. At the International Sanitary Conference, held in Washington in February 1881, he explained his theory. In August Finlay read before the Academy of Sciences of Havana his historic work showing a mosquito, Culex fasciatus or Stegomyia fasciata (later known as Aedes aegypti), to be the vector of the yellow fever organism. Although Finlay advanced numerous experiments and observations to support his conclusions, his theory was not accepted by the scientific world for almost 2 decades. In a report to the International Sanitary Conference held in Havana in 1901, Walter Reed confirmed Finlay's discovery.

When United States troops landed in Cuba in 1898 during the Spanish-American War, Finlay worked with the American army in Santiago de Cuba. He further tested his theories in practice and advocated a campaign against the mosquito. As a result of his urgings, W. C. Gorgas, United States health chief in Cuba, began a program, later extended to Panama, to exterminate the mosquito, thus putting an end to a sickness that had plagued the Caribbean for many years.

In addition to his work in the epidemiology of yellow fever, Finlay wrote extensively on ophthalmology, tuberculosis, tetanus, trichinosis, filariasis, leprosy, beriberi, cholera, and exophthalmic goiter. After the establishment of the Cuban Republic in 1902, he was appointed public health chief, and the Cuban government created in his honor the Finlay Institute for Investigations in Tropical Medicine. Finlay died in Havana on Aug. 20, 1915.

Further Reading

Carlos E. Finlay, Carlos Finlay and Yellow Fever (1940), is a valuable work by Finlay's son and includes most of the Cuban scientist's writings on yellow fever, as well as a section on his life. A collection of essays on Finlay published by the Cuban Ministry of Public Health is Dr. Carlos J. Finlay and the "Hall of Fame" (1959). See also Enrique Saladrigás y Zayas, A Tribute to Finlay (1952). □

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Finlay, Carlos Juan

Carlos Juan Finlay (kär´lōs hwän fēnlī), or Charles John Finlay (fĬn´lē), 1833–1915, Cuban physician of Scottish and French descent; studied in France; M.D. Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia, 1855. Settling in Havana, he began his life work on yellow fever, suggesting in 1881 the mosquito as carrier and in 1882 specifying the genus Stegomyia. The Reed Commission of 1900 inaugurated experiments that conclusively proved his theories. Finlay served as chief health officer of Cuba from 1902 to 1909.

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"Finlay, Carlos Juan." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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