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¿Quién fue Wu Lien-teh, el hombre que inventó la primera mascarilla?

Este 10 de marzo se conmemoran 142 años del nacimiento de Wu Lien-teh, un médico epidemiólogo chino a quien se le atribuye la creación de la mascarilla quirúrgica para luchar contra la peste de Manchurria que afectó el noroeste de China en abril de 1910. 

Nacido en una familia de inmigrantes chinos en Malasia, Wu se convirtió en el primer estudiante de ascendencia china en asistir a la prestigiosa Universidad de Cambridge y obtener un doctorado.

En 1908 aceptó un puesto como subdirector de la Facultad de Medicina del Ejército Imperial de China. Dos años más tarde, dado su intelecto y notable desarrollo como médico, el gobierno chino lo nombró para investigar la contagiosa enfermedad hasta el momento conocida como un “peste neumónica”. 

Google Doodle recuerda que durante su investigación, Wu convenció a sus compañeros de que la enfermedad se transmitía de persona a persona vía aérea, por lo que todos empezaron a cubrirse la cabeza con vendas para protegerse de la peste, sin embargo, al no poder sostenerlas siempre a Wu se le ocurrió crear una especie de “arnés” que sujetara la mascarilla.

Wu elaboró la primera mascarilla quirúrgica con algodón y gasa, utilizando capas de tela para filtrar el aire. Días después le aconsejaba a la gente que usara su nuevo invento para escudarse de la enfermedad.

A este invento se le considera hoy día como la precursora de la mascarilla N95, esa que utiliza toda la humanidad para enfrentar el Covid-19.

El epidemiólogo chino trabajó de la mano con el gobierno para establecer estaciones de cuarentena para pacientes infectados en hospitales, restringir viajes, aplicar técnicas de esterilización y guardar distanciamiento social, todo esto se traslada al presente en la lucha contra el coronavirus.

Gracias a sus esfuerzos, logró frenar los efectos de la epidemia en sólo cuatro meses y se le reconoció como “héroe nacional”.

Según un artículo de El País en conmemoración de su nacimiento, Wu sugirió al gobierno chino que convocara una conferencia internacional para evaluar las medidas tomadas en contra de la enfermedad, de modo que pudieran ser tomadas en cuenta en el futuro. Años más tarde, la conferencia conformada por científicos y epidemiólogos de 11 países resultó en el Informe de la Conferencia Internacional de la Plaga de 1911.

Su descubrimiento 

Wu realizó la primera autopsia en China a una mujer que había muerto a causa del virus, donde concluyó que la enfermedad era la “peste neumónica” que podía transmitirse a través del aliento humano y fluidos. 

Su descubrimiento contradijo la creencia que en ese entonces tenía Occidente, quienes pensaban que la peste solo podía transmitirse por ratas o picaduras de pulgas.

En 1915 el epidemiólogo fundó la Asociación Médica China, organización médica no gubernamental más grande y antigua del país.

De acuerdo con una publicación de El País, dos décadas después Wu se convirtió en el primer malayo y persona de ascendencia china en ser nominado al Premio Nobel de Fisiología o Medicina por sus encomiables esfuerzos en salvar la vida de la población china.

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