Charles Nicolle and Inapparent Infections

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  • Department of Zoology and Applied Entomology, Imperial College, London SW7 2AZ

Charles Nicolle was born in Rouen, Normandy in 1866, where he later became a reluctant graduate in medicine. He did not find his true niche until he reached the age of 36, when he was appointed Director of the Pasteur Institute of Tunis. In that crowded city he quickly became acquainted with a great variety of infectious diseases, and in the Tunisian countryside—the Bled—he learnt about their origins. He was entranced by the African bush and its motley inhabitants; he became inured to the hard beds, the bugs, the fleas, the lice and the aerial ballet (as he called it) of flies, mosquitoes, Phlebotomus and Stomoxys.

In such surroundings, Nicolle inevitably met the unexpected; he had little or no equipment and had continually to improvise. He practised tropical medicine in the raw. His experiences are vividly related in “L'expérimentation dans l'étude des maladies infectieuses.” It might be said that his work for 24 years in the country resulted in “La Nicollonisation de Tunisie!”

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