MFF0040: Yersin

Medical Fun Facts logo from Gary Lum

If I’ve timed this correctly, tonight’s show is dropping on Thursday 16 February 2017.

Tonight’s episode is about something beginning with the letter Y. I wanted to talk about Alexandre Yersin.

Yersin was born in Switzerland to French parents. He studied medicine in Switzerland but wanted to practice in France so he changed his nationality.

Before his work on the plague, Yersin worked on the diphtheria toxin.

In the late 1800s, Yersin went to work in Indochina and while there was directed by the French Government to Hong Kong to work on the Manchurian pneumonic plague.

While in Hong Kong, Yersin identified the bacterium responsible for the bubonic plague, viz., Yersinia pestis. He also determined that it could be found in rodents which explained the transmission of the infection. After this work, he returned to France to work on an antiserum for the plague.

After his plague work, we set up the first medical school in Vietnam and was its first director.

He died in Ha Noi in 1943 during world war two.

The cause of plague is Yersinia pestis and the genus was named after Yersin. While Yersinia pestis is a very important pathogen and one which interests me greatly, there is another species in the genus which is almost as interesting and which causes quite a lot of morbidity. Its name is Yersinia enterocolitica. It’s the common cause of diarrhoea and mesenteric adenitis. While the diarrhoea is interesting enough, the fascinating thing about mesenteric adenitis is that is can mimic acute appendicitis. There have been plenty of healthy appendixes removed because of this infection.

Like Listeria monocytogenesYersinia enterocolitica can grow and replicate in refrigerator temperatures making it too a problem in terms of ‘food poisoning’. It’s something we used to exploit in the old days when trying to identify the bacterium. We’d incubate the reactions are lower temperatures and avoid confusion with other bacteria.

In these days of better diagnostic imaging, I hope no one loses a perfectly good appendix by mistake.

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