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Hove, Arthur (ed.) / Wisconsin alumnus
Volume 66, Number 2 (Nov. 1964)

The doctor and the laucha,   p. 16


Page 16


Dr. Ronald Mackenzie, along with two Bolivian natives, investigates a possible
source of the
dread hemorrhagic fever.
           The Doctor and the Laucha
T HE HALLMARK of a dedicated
   scientist is a willingness to sac-
rifice -everything in an effort to ad-
vance the frontiers of our knowl-
edge. Such is the case-with Dr.
Ronald B. Mackenzie '50 who is an
epidemiologist with the Middle
America Research Unit (MARU) in
the Canal Zone.
  Dr. Mackenzie, along with a team
of researchers from   MARU, was
Dr. Merle Kuns was a member of the MARU
team that helped rid the Bolivian community
of the hemorrhagic fever epidemic.
flown to Bolivia in 1963 to investi-
gate an outbreak of hemorrhagic
fever in the northeast section of that
country. Called the "'Black Typhus
of Beni," the disease was responsible
for the deaths of hundreds of Bo-
-livians in the area. The-researchers
discovered that the disease, which is
characterized by chills and fever,
headache, bleeding from the nose
and mouth, tremor, and coma, was
being caused by a virus. The prob-
lem then became to discover how
the virus was being transmitted.
   In the process of trying to isolate
the virus, Dr. Mackenzie and an as-
sociate became seriously ill with the
disease they were hoping to cure.
Since the disease is fatal about one-
third of the time, the scientists were
air lifted back to the Canal Zone for
treatment at Gorgas Hospital.
   They recovered and within weeks
were back in Bolivia searching for
the source of the virus. Rapid, safe
methods of virus isolation and iden-
tification had to be devised, tests for
antibodies in humans and animals
had to be evaluated, hundreds of
animals, birds, and   reptiles, and
many thousands of biting insects
were caught, studied and tested for
the virus, without success. Mean-
while, the deaths from the disease
16
continued, claiming the lives of two
Bolivians who worked closely with
Dr. Ma&kenzie and the other scien-
tists, and over two hundred local
citizens.
  Then came a clue-the virus was
isolated from a laucha, the common
house mouse. The scientists went
back to their laboratory in the Canal
Zone and collected substantial proof
that the house mice of northeastern
Bolivia were chronically infected
with the virus and were serving as
a reservoir for human infection.
  The doctors returned to Bolivia
early this year and systematically
destroyed the rodent population
within the region. There was an im-
mediate and marked decline in the
number of fever cases and by mid-
June, essentially all rats and mice
had been eradicated and the epi-
demic was over.
  Working with Dr. Mackenzie in
isolating the virus was Dr. Merle
Kuns, an ecologist who received his
Ph.D. degree from Wisconsin in
1963. Both scientists were presented
with the Order of the Condor of the
Andes, highest honor given to for-
eigners by the Bolivian government,
for their work in helping to control
the hemorrhagic fever epidemic.
                Wisconsin Alumnus


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