Cuban physician and scientist Dr Carlos Juan Finlay has been immortalised in Google Doodle form in celebration of what would have been his 180th birthday. Finlay is best known for identifying the role of mosquitoes in spreading yellow fever.
Born in 1833 as Juan Carlos Finlay y Barres, he took on the name Carlos Juan Finlay in later life.
After studying in Philadelphia, Havana and Paris, Finlay settled in the Cuban capital and opened a medical practice there in 1864. Havana was regularly hit by yellow fever epidemics but the cause and origin of this disease had so far escaped medical professionals.
Finlay began researching the disease that was ravaging his native country and proposed, in 1881, that the mosquito be considered an agent of its transmission. Finlay theorised that the mosquito was a carrier of the organism that caused yellow fever, which infected humans when they were bitten. A year later, he identified a mosquito of the genus Aedes as the one transmitting the virus and recommended the control of the mosquito population in an effort to curb the spread of the disease.
In all, Finlay wrote 40 articles on yellow fever, but his theory was derided for years. It wasn’t until 1901 that the US Army’s Walter Reed Commission tested and confirmed his hypothesis, marking a milestone in biomedicine.
Finlay was later appointed chief health officer of Cuba. He was nomintated for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine seven times but never awarded. A monument shaped like a syringe resides within the city of Havana in his honour and a statue was erected on the bayfront in Panama City, denoting the contribution he made in reducing the prevalence of mosquito-borne diseases during the construction of the Panama Canal.
Finlay died on 20 August 1915, at the age of 81, following a stroke at his home in Havana.