Salvador Mazza Biography

(Was a Noted Argentine Physician, Epidemiologist)

Birthday: June 6, 1886 (Gemini)

Born In: Rauch, Argentina

Salvador Mazza was a prominent Argentinean physician and epidemiologist widely recognised for the efforts and decisive steps he took in controlling the tropical parasitic disease called Chagas disease or American trypanosomiasis among the rural and poor people of early 20th century South America. A graduate from the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) School of Medicine, Mazza specialized in microbiology and pathology and obtained his degree of Doctor of Medicine. While studying the crisis of contagious disease in the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires, Mazza met noted Brazilian epidemiologist Carlos Chagas, who discovered American trypanosomiasis. Persuaded by Chagas, Mazza started investigating the Chagas disease, elucidated over thousand cases in the Chaco Province of Argentina and eventually came up with the first scientific confirmation of existence of Trypanosoma cruzi in Argentina leading to support from local and European medical schools and support and action from the Argentine government. He also studied methods of noted bacteriologist and Nobel Laureate Charles Nicolle in the treatment of typhus and discussed with the latter, the need for taking strong actions in curbing the contagious diseases among the country's poor leading to establishment of the medical mission called MEPRA. The Mazza laboratory, installed in a railway car, undertook studies on several diseases including on trypanosomiasis and leishmaniasis; published regular reports; and travelled across villages to spread awareness on nature of common diseases of the rural masses as also to help control the known disease vector Triatoma infestans of Trypanosoma cruzi which can lead to the American trypanosomiasis. His death because to a sudden, severe attack of hypotension is believed to be the likely result of trypanosomiasis, a disease he thrived to control to a great extent in Argentina. Ttrypanosomiasis is called mal de Chagas-Mazza disease in Argentina in his honour.

Quick Facts

Died At Age: 60


Spouse/Ex-: Clorinda Brígida Razori

father: Francesco Mazza

mother: Giuseppa Alfise

Born Country: Argentina

Epidemiologists Bacteriologists

Died on: November 9, 1946

place of death: Monterrey, Mexico

Notable Alumni: University Of Buenos Aires

More Facts

education: Colegio Nacional de Buenos Aires, University of Buenos Aires (UBA) School of Medicine

Childhood & Early Life

Salvador Mazza was born on June 6, 1886, in Retiro, Buenos Aires, in the family of Francesco Mazza and Giuseppa Alfisi. His parents emigrated from Sicily. Mazza grew up in the small pampas town called Rauch.

Mazza was an intelligent boy and at age 10, he was accepted in the public high school called Colegio Nacional de Buenos Aires in Buenos Aires, one of the most prestigious schools in Latin America. After graduating from the school, Mazza applied to get enlisted in the Argentine Naval Academy. He was however declined on medical grounds. He then attended the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) School of Medicine and completed his graduation in 1903. While pursuing his graduate studies at the UBA, he worked as Health Inspector for the Province of Buenos Aires, at that time a rural area, and concentrated on disease prevention and vaccination.

Upon his graduation from UBA, Mazza specialized in microbiology and pathology. He organized a lazaretto, quarantine station, on Martín García Island for cholera-stricken seafarers and immigrants and directed the facility for a short while. Thereafter he did his medical residency in several European hospitals and obtained his degree of Doctor of Medicine. He returned to Argentina in 1910 and was inducted as a bacteriologist in the National Department of Hygiene, renamed as Ministry of Health.

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Mazza went back to Europe after the First World War started. In 1916, the Argentine Army commissioned him to study an infectious disease that had struck the German Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  While doing so, Mazza got introduced to noted Brazilian epidemiologist, sanitary physician, scientist and bacteriologist Carlos Chagas, who discovered American trypanosomiasis in 1909. Chagas convinced Mazza to conduct research on the epidemic and in the ensuing years, Mazza emerged as the leading researcher in Argentina and later went on to be the first to scientifically confirm the existence of Trypanosoma cruzi.

In 1920, Mazza was inducted at the UBA as Laboratories Director of the Clinical Hospital and Dean of the Bacteriology Course. In 1923, Mazza and his wife travelled to France. There they accepted invitation of prominent French bacteriologist Charles Nicolle to study Dr. Nicolle's methods in the treatment of typhus at the Algiers branch of Pasteur Institute. Dr. Nicolle later received the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his work on epidemic typhus.

In 1925, Mazza returned to Argentina and was inducted in an important position in the UBA Surgical Clinic. Mazza thereafter invited Dr. Nicolle to visit Buenos Aires and the two talked through the need for more strong action to control contagious diseases affecting the poor people of the nation. Such discussion paved way for the need of setting up of a medical mission in Argentina's underdeveloped north and this proposal received support from Dr. José Arce, the then Dean of Anatomy of the school. In February 1926, the Mision de Estudios de Patologia Regional Argentina (MEPRA) was set up in the then-feudal Jujuy Province.

The Mazza laboratory that was installed in a railway car conduced significant studies on several diseases including on trypanosomiasis and leishmaniasis. The mobile lab published reports on a regular basis and visited villages in Argentina to inform and spread awareness to the then rural populace, who were mostly illiterate, about the nature of common diseases they face and also help them control the blood-sucking bug Triatoma infestans, locally called the winchulka, the most important vector of Trypanosoma cruzi which can lead to American trypanosomiasis. Mazza conducted research on the epidemic and death of a symptomatic dog in 1926 led him to confirm in 1927, the existence of the causal pathogen Trypanosoma cruzi in Argentina. This ultimately led to government support and action.

In pursuit of spreading information and to coordinate his studies, Mazza set up Scientific Societies in 7 northern provinces during 1926-1927. The land gentry of the area, who considered squalor and infectious disease as an externality, feared that the efforts made by Mazza might lead to a peasant revolt and thus resisted his efforts. Mazza however continued with his initiatives including controlling the winchulka. As he was of the opinion that the rural thatched roofs were a habitat for these blood-sucking bugs, he vigorously campaigned for burning such roofs in rural areas. This however aroused a controversy.

In 1931, funding of MEPRA was stopped following the 1930 Argentine coup d'état that resulted in overthrow of the government of aging President Hipólito Yrigoyen, suspension of the Argentine Constitution and establishment of military dictatorship. This led Mazza to run the facility with his own resources and with the help of donations.

Efforts of Mazza later bore fruit when the South American medical community had to accept the validity of trypanosomiasis. In 1939, the medical community made such works of Mazza on trypanosomiasis a special topic of discussion at the reputed VI National Congress of Medicine.

In 1942, Mazza wrote a letter to Sir Alexander Fleming, a distinguished Scottish physician and microbiologist renowned for discovering penicillin (the first broadly effective antibiotic substance) for production of the antibiotic in Argentina. Although the then Argentine government refused to support such endeavour, cooperation of Dr. Fleming led to establishment of the first penicillin manufacturer in the country in 1943.

By 1944, 551 articles of MEPRA were published in peer reviewed journals and of these 482 articles were written by Mazza. In November 1946, Mazza was invited to the First International Brucellosis Congress held in Monterrey in Mexico.

Although the struggling MEPRA continued to operate even after Mazza’s death, it was forced to close its last lab in 1959, a two-room facility in the La Paternal section of Buenos Aires, amidst repeated budget cuts.

Personal Life

Mazza met an Italian Argentine lady called Clorinda Brígida Razori and the two married in 1914, marking the beginning of an enduring partnership, both as professionals and as a couple.

He suffered a sudden, severe attack of hypotension and died on November 9, 1946, in Monterrey, Mexico. According to sources, Mazza probably died as a result of trypanosomiasis, the disease he tried to eliminate all his life and succeeded in controlling it to a large extent in Argentina.

His life story was dramatised in the August 31, 1995, released Argentine biographical-drama historical film Casas de fuego directed by Juan Bautista Stagnaro. Argentine actor Miguel Ángel Solá portrayed the role of Mazza in the film.

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