December 3, 2011 - Happy Birthday, Carlos Juan Finlay

Yellow fever was one of the most dangerous diseases during the 19th century, with several terrible outbreaks in the Americas, Africa, and Europe. People needed to figure out how the disease was spread so they could fight it!

Enter our birthday boy, a Cuban scientist and doctor. He studied yellow fever and made a hypothesis (which means an educated guess) that the disease was being spread through mosquitos. If an infected person was bitten by a mosquito, and later a healthy person was bitten by the same mosquito, the second person usually developed the disease.

Finlay (born on this day in 1833) published this hypothesis in 1886, but his idea was ignored for two decades. Finally U.S. military doctor Walter Reed paid attention to Finlay's idea and began to test it. Soon Reed's team confirmed that the mosquito was spreading the disease, and people began to control the disease by controlling the mosquitos.

We call “pests” (like rats or mosquitos) that carry diseases “vectors.”

Reed often gets the credit for “beating” yellow fever, but he gives credit to Finlay. Unfortunately, the disease isn't really beaten, yet; is only controlled in parts of the in the world. Africa still has a problem with the disease, and it can still crop up in Latin America, too. As a matter of fact, there are an estimated 200,000 cases each year, with 30,000 people dying of yellow fever per year!

Learn more, take action!

PestWorld for Kids has info, science fair kits, and games. 

Malaria is also spread by mosquitos, as are other dangerous illnesses. The United Nations Foundation has a campaign called Nothing But Nets. Donate to help prevent mosquito-borne illnesses and death! 

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