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American Medical Biographies/Husk, Carlos Ellsworth

Husk, Carlos Ellsworth (1872–1916).

Carlos Ellsworth Husk was born December 19, 1872, at Shabbona, Illinois, and died at Laredo, Texas, March 20, 1916. Husk was a corporation and mine surgeon, who became head of the medical interests of a large chain of mining industries in Mexico, a man conspicuous in public sanitary matters, and fearless and aggressive in promoting the public welfare; he finally laid down his life in endeavoring to put out a typhus epidemic.

His father, William Husk, was a retired merchant; his mother was Celia Norton. Husk passed through the High School at Aurora, Illinois, and taught in the public schools until 1895. He resigned as principal of the Western High School, to study medicine at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Chicago, where he graduated in 1896 and in the same year married Corena B. Kirkpatrick of Waterman, Illinois, who survived him.

His first position was that of company surgeon for the American Smelting and Refining Company at Tepezala, Aguascalientes. He afterwards went to Santa Barbara, Chihuahua, Mexico, and became surgeon-in-chief of the company's smelting interests in 1911. Though an American citizen, he held the position of official muncipal surgeon in Santa Barbara, where he gained fame by his original, drastic and effective methods of stamping out an epidemic of malignant smallpox. In Mexico, smallpox, fully erupted, stalks the streets and jostles the crowds, thronging the open air markets in the Plaza; so hopeless is the situation that mothers carry their little children to the bedside of the affected patient to insure catching the disease, to have it over with, so as to avoid the trouble and expense of raising them to die of it later on. Husk, as generalissimo, simply herded all who had smallpox and all the suspects, and segregated and watched them, while they tore down and burned houses, clothing and bedding, in a manner that seemed reckless and appalling to the astonished natives; but no opposition, however sturdy, checked the triumphal march of the vaccination squad; the epidemic was speedily checked, and soon passed into Mexico's long history of similar events.

Husk's warm heart knew no class distinction. He was as devoted to the poor and the illiterate as to the rich. During the bad epidemic of typhus in Mexico in 1916, he helped to organize the scientific expedition for the study and control of the disease, which was financed by the Mount Sinai Hospital of New York City, including on its staff, Doctors Peter Olitsky and Bernard Denzer. A hospital was established in the centre of the affected zone at Matahuala, where the staff experimented upon themselves, and then upon others, with an antityphus vaccine; all school children also were inoculated. The most good came from convincing the Mexicans of the imperative necessity for killing the lice. The interiors of all public buildings and schools were sprayed with a mixture of equal parts of hot soapsuds and kerosene and with these preventive measures, research work went on at the hospital laboratory, the results of which can be partly estimated by the low mortality—only 14 per cent among the Mexicans. Laboratory studies only served to confirm the growing conviction that the body louse was the carrier of the infection. The germ was isolated from the louse and the disease reproduced in guinea pigs. Husk, as he worked, became infected and developed a fever as high as 104.5° F.; he refused, however, to go to bed, and continued toiling for two days, tabulating results and preparing microscopic specimens, so that the work might go on. He then laid down his tools, and yielded up his life. His services were so appreciated by the Mexicans, that, notwithstanding anti-American riots at the time, a movement was set on foot to erect a monument to him. He was a debonair, gay-hearted, courageous warrior of the scientific war-path, fully aware of all the dangers, and never afraid to face them. In the midst of the great typhus epidemic there was also an outbreak of smallpox, which he handled as skilfully as the previous one.

He was a prolific writer of articles on medical and sanitary problems among the Mexicans, and other subjects.