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Filippo Pacini, the discoverer of cholera vibrio

Published: 2017.06.28 - 11:29:40   /  /  Alina Iglesias Regueyra  /  translated by  Luis E. Amador Dominguez  /

Filippo Pacini, the discoverer of cholera vibrioHis parents Francesca Pacini and Umiltà Dolfi, both very poor, dedicated to the work of shoemakers. Wishing fantastically that his son should become nothing less than a bishop, he was encouraged to take religious studies at the Episcopal Seminary of Pistoia and later at the Classical Academy. However, the child's dreams moved farther and farther away from those of his parents, and after passing his basic education, he embraced the study of the natural sciences, so he abandoned his ecclesiastical career in 1830 and opted for medicine.

He became a medical researcher and anatomist, under the tutelage of Paolo Savi, a famous Italian naturalist and geologist, and specialized in microscopic processes that occur within the human body.

Filippo Pacini's first adventure with science occurred, five years after the wise decision that defined his life, while he was in his dissection class at the Medical School of his hometown.

There he discovered small sensory organelles of the human nervous system, which were capable of detecting pressure and vibrations, although he did not publish his research until 1840 in the Medical-Physics Society of Florence. His scientific work was well recognized in Europe and the new structures were named "Pacini corpuscles".

It is now known that they are one of the five types of sensory receptors of the skin and are found with greater abundance in the hands and feet, also in the membranes amongst bones, peritoneum, pancreas and sexual organs.

After his success with the discovery of the corpuscles, the second scientific adventure of this scholar happened during a process of preparation of microscope in 1854, where Pacini identified and described the bacilli of cholera.

This is an acute infectious-contagious intestinal disease, caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae, which produces thick, gray diarrhea with a fishy odor. In its severe form, the diarrhea is liquid and abundant, and leads soon to dehydration.

It was named in past centuries as blue or black disease, serious fever, choleric passion, morbid anger, amongst other denominations. It originates from the same root as colon, relative to bile or gall, in Greek, for the earliest descriptions of cholera were made by the Greek Hippocrates (460-377 BC), also by Galen (129-216) and Wang Shuhe (180-270), but without pointing out the cause of evil.

In the same year that Pacini discovered cholera, John Snow, a British doctor, proved that his cause was in the consumption of water contaminated with feces.

After the discovery of Pacini, another scientist: Jaume Ferran i Clua, developed the first vaccine. The infection can be benign or asymptomatic, but can be easily aggravated, causing death, so it should be stopped.

The discovery of Filippo Pacini, John Snow and Jaume Ferran is extremely important, considering that until 1817 there were isolated reports of cholera, but that year the first pandemic began, followed by two more, until the sixth decade of the 19th century. It spread throughout the planet through wars, by bringing these into contact with various ethnic groups and favoring malnutrition and unhealthiness in desolate camps and villages.

The World Health Organization recognizes six successive pandemics in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that killed millions of people on every continent. The second of 1829 affected Cuba greatly, others occurred in 1852, 1863, 1881 to 1896 and 1899 to 1923.

The current pandemic, the seventh, began in South Asia in 1961 (its original birthplace), reached Africa in a decade and America thirty years later. The initial outbreak affected between 3 and 5 million people per year, and about 120 000 patients died. Today, cholera has become endemic in many countries.

In Haiti, in 2010, the infection was a consequence of the earthquake that occurred in January of that year, provoking deficient sanitary conditions and overcrowding of people.

Filippo Pacini, the discoverer of the Vibrio of Cholera, did not have a family. He left everything he owned to her two sick sisters. He died poor in Florence, on July 9, 1883. Mankind remembers him today with respect, admiration and gratitude.

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