Daniel Alcides Carrión
Biography of Daniel Alcides Carrión
Daniel Alcides Carrión began the study of medicine in 1873. Three years earlier there had been a severe outbreak of an epidemic on the railroad construction between Lima's seaport town Callao and La Oroya. The disease, characterised by fever, quickly progressing anaemia and a high rate of mortality, killed thousands, chiefly among the workers recruited from outside. The physicians were at a loss, never having seen anything like it before.
As a new factor of the problem was a noticeable increase in verruga peruana. This disease, which manifests with wart-like skin eruptions of various shapes and sizes, had been present in Peru already in pre-Columbian times, and had been described in some writings from the Spanish time.
In his youth and on school excursions Carrion had met people with verrucous skin eruptions and caught an interest in the disease. From 1881 he conducted extensive research on verruga peruane, including clinical studies at the Dos de Mayo hospital in Lima.
Carrion recognised that the disease was endemic, but not contagious, and that it was caused by an "agente verrucoso", possibly by a parasite attacking the blood and destroying leucocytes. In order to find out whether the disease could be inoculated and to study its clinical course, Carrión decided to conduct an experiment on himself.
On August 27, 1885, Carrion took blood from a redly coloured verruca in the area of the eyebrows from a 14 year old boy about to be released from the hospital. As Carrion had trouble inoculating himself, friends took the lancet and made four inoculations, two in each of Carrión's arms. In accordance with his plans Carrion made detailed notes on the inoculation and the course of the disease. His notes have later been published.
Carrion experienced the first symptoms of the disease on September 17, and from September 26 he was too feeble to make his own notes, which were continued by his friends attending him at the bedside. Carrion's condition now rapidly deteriorated and on October 5 he succumbed to the disease.
Through his experiment Carrion had proved that Oroya fever and verruga are two phases of the same, inoculable disease. In 1909 Alberto Barton reported patients whose erythrocytes had been attacked by microorganisms which he considered to be agents of the disease. The microorganism was named Bartonella bacilliformis.
By cultivating Bartonella bacilliformis from Oroya fever- and verruga-patients in the years 1926-1927, the Japanese bacteriologist Hideyo Noguchi (1876-1928) (himself a victim of his research on yellow fever), was able to demonstrate that Oroya fever and verruga are two manifestations of the same infection.
The Universidad Nacional Daniel Alcides Carrión in Pasco, Peru, is named for him.
- Apuntes sobre la verruga peruana. Posthumous publication, 1886.
Clinical studies at the Dos de Mayo hospital in Lima, based on nine cases.
- Erkki Hakulinen:
Dog i självforsök med den peruanska "nationalsjukdomen".
Läkartidningen, Stockholm, 1987, 87 (24): 71-72.
In the series: Mannen bakom syndromet [The Man Behind the Syndrome].