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Béla Schick

[bA' luh shik] developer of a method for testing immunity to diphtheria

Bela Schick

Béla Schick was born in Boglár, Hungary, on July 16, 1877, the son of Jacob (a grain merchant) and Johanna Pichler Schick. He graduated from Staats Gymnasium, Graz, in 1894, and earned his medical degree from Karl Franz University at Graz in 1900. After six months in the Austro-Hungarian army, Schick became a voluntary assistant in the clinic of Professor Theodore Escherich. When Escherich was appointed to the Chair in Pediatrics at the University of Vienna, Schick was asked to accompany him. There, Schick was appointed to do volunteer work with Dr. Clemens von Pirquet, an assistant at the Children's Clinic of the University. He subsequently became a Professor of Pediatrics at the University.

While at the university, Schick became an expert on allergic reactions, but his work on diphtheria that ultimately made him famous. Between 1911 and 1912 he and a colleague worked to develop a test for diphtheria immunity, and such a test was introduced to the public in 1913. The Schick Test involved injecting a small amount of diphtheria toxin under the skin; the extent of a child's immunity to the disease could be determined by the presence or absence of a reaction around the injection site -- the greater the reaction, the lesser the immunity. He then became a leader in the call for widespread vaccination against diphtheria, a disease which up to that time had been responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of infants and children.

Schick immigrated to the United States in 1923, and became a naturalized citizen in 1924. He served as Chief of Pediatrics at Mount Sinai Hospital from 1923 to 1943; Professor of Pediatrics, Columbia University, 1936-1937; and, Chief of Pediatrics, Bethel Hospital, 1950-1962. In addition to his work on diphtheria, Schick also contributed to work on scarlet fever, tuberculosis, and infant nutrition. Despite he and his wife, Catherine Fries Schick, having no children of their own, he authored Child Care Today (1932), a popular guide to raising children which advised against corporal punishment. He was also the author of The Care of Your Child from Infancy to Six (1949) and Serum Sickness (1951), and founder of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Béla Schick died in New York City on December 6, 1967.

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This page was last updated on 07/06/2017.