Dr Louis Daniel Beauperthuy (1807-1871) was a French-Venezuelan microbiologist who made pioneering observations about the cause of several diseases, including leprosy.
Born a French citizen in Guadeloupe, Beauperthuy studied medicine in Paris before moving to Venezuela in 1839. He married a Venezuelan woman, Ignacia Sanchez Mayz, and practiced medicine in the country.
He made clinical observations on many tropical diseases and conducted microscopic research on samples of human secretions. He was one of the first to propose that disease was caused by microorganisms, a theory not fully developed until after his death.
In 1853, a yellow fever epidemic occurred in his hometown of Cumaná, and he observed that the disease seemed to be spread by mosquitoes. After the role of mosquitoes in spreading yellow fever was proven by the Yellow Fever Commission (YFC), in 1900, Beauperthuy’s much earlier insight was acknowledged by two members of the YFC.
Beauperthuy developed an interest in leprosy and began caring for patients, ensuring basic needs such as food, shelter, and hygiene were provided for, and administering a medicine he had developed. With this treatment, leprosy patients who had been ostracised by their communities saw notable improvement. This convinced Beauperthuy that leprosy was caused by an infectious agent like the other diseases he had studied, and was curable.
Beauperthuy’s encouraging results with leprosy patients sparked local and international interest, and a report of his success was published in the Trinidad newspaper. In 1868, the colonial government of Trinidad sent Dr Bakewell to observe and report on Beauperthuy’s work. As a result of Bakewell's visit, Doctors Beauperthuy, Bakewell and Brassac entered into a ‘convention’ at Dr Beauperthuy’s insistence in order to protect the details of Beauperthuy’s medication and the secret of his remedies against leprosy. A copy of Dr Brassac’s report on Beauperthuy’s cure was circulated to medical officers in India. In addition, as a result of these reports, Gavin Milroy was appointed to the West Indies.
Beauperthuy was enlisted by the government of British Guyana to set up a leprosy centre on the island of Kaow, in the Mazaruni River near Georgetown. However, only six months after beginning the project, he died suddenly, and the project was abandoned.
He left behind a large collection of papers, some of which were published posthumously, establishing his reputation as a pioneer in his fields. The Venezuelan Society of Microbiology celebrates him as a pioneering microbiologist and awards the annual Louis Daniel Beauperthuy Award in his honour.
Godoy GA1, Tarradath E. 'Short biography of Louis Daniel Beauperthuy (1807-71): pioneer of microbiology and medical science in Venezuela.' J Med Biogr. 2010 Feb;18(1):38-40. doi: 10.1258/jmb.2009.009095.
Pantoja, E. 'Beauperthuy's place in the history of tropical epidemiology' Med Geogr Herit 5 (1989):9-34.
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Sakula A 'Louis Daniel Beauperthuy: pioneer in yellow fever and leprosy research' J R Coll Physicians Lond 20.2 (1986):146-50.
|Maharashtra State Archives
|The Maharashtra State Archives contain the schedule of correspondence between Bakewell and the Royal College of Physicians concerning his investigation into his alleged leprosy cure.
|Odisha State Archives (Orissa State Archives)
|Both Maharashtra and Odisha State Archives hold reports on Dr Beauperthuy's system of treating leprosy (October 1871)
|National Archives of India (NAI)