Louis Pasteur’s New Jersey Connection

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We have already blogged about Rabies, and the paranoia invoked by this terrible almost invariably fatal illness.

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Part of the terror is the long incubation period between the bite of an infected animal and the onset of the disease, anywhere from 5d to 2 years later.

Before Louis Pasteur’s investigation and research in the late 1800’s, there was nothing a potentially infected victim could do except wait to develop this terrifying disease.

In the 1880s, Louis Pasteur and others proved that Rabies was an infectious disease that could be transmitted between species by infected saliva and blood.

They had also realized that Rabies was neurotrophic and targeted the spinal cord and brain. They could dissect an infected animal, remove the spinal cord, and infect other animals by the inoculation of this material.

Pasteur went on to find that strains of the virus become less lethal (“virulent”) when transmitted from dog to monkey or between other species, and that the virulence diminished with each transmission.

He also found that when sections of rabid spinal cord was suspended in dry air the virulence gradually diminished with time.

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This is how Pasteur produced the first attenuated vaccine, and successfully immunized 50 dogs against rabies.

Then on Monday 6 July 1885, Joseph Meister, aged nine, was brought to him from Alsace having been bitten by a rabid dog just 2 days before.

With some reluctance, Pasteur was persuaded by Drs Vulpian and Grancher of the Académie de Médecine to give Dr Grancher the emulsion from the cord of a rabbit that had died of rabies on 21 June and kept in dry air for 15 days, to innoculate the child.

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The boy was then given 13 further inoculations with samples form progressively fresher (more virulent) infected spinal cord over 10 days.  Pasteur waited every day for news of the boy from his doctos.  Finally when the boy had shown no signs of hydrophobis after three months, it seemed likely that the innoculations had averted the dreaded disease, and Pasteur announced that the vaccine had worked.

Not long after on the other side of the Atlantic in Newark (New Jersey) four boys had been bitten by a dog suspected to be rabid. A well-known physician, Dr. William O’Gorman had heard of Pasteur’s work with Meister, and recommended that the children be sent to him for treatment:

I have such confidence in the preventive forces of inoculation by mitigated virus that were it my misfortune to be bitten by a rabid dog, I would board the first Atlantic steamer, go straight to Paris and, full of hope, place myself immediately in the hands of Pasteur…. If the parents be poor, I appeal to the medical profession and to the humane of all classes to help send these poor children where there is almost a certainty of prevention and cure. Let us prove to the world that we are intelligent enough to appreciate the advance of science and liberal and humane enough to help those who cannot help themselves..

– New York Herald Tribune, December 4, 1885

This appeal to individuals in the United States, for those who desperately needed this medical treatment, as well as to philanthropists who recognized the global need to implement Pasteur’s new discoveries as standard medical procedure, created an uproar throughout the country.

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The four boys were sent to Paris accompanied by the one mother and a reporter.  Their story became a media sensation. It seemed that the entire nation was following the boys, who finally returned home in January 1886 cured.  The papers announced them as “heroes” are arranged for them to  tour and appear in major American cities.

The international publicity and donations resulting from this and other similar cases led to the foundation of the Pasteur Institute in 1888.  Patients came from all around the world for treatment.

By 1911,  the Philadelphia drug company H. K. Mulford was producing a rabies vaccine kit, using the Pasteur method, that could be shipped directly to doctors and was simple enough that “physicians who have had no previous experience may successfully apply it”.

three ampules of rabies vaccine, doses one, two, and three; 26 syringes with physiological salt solution; 26 needles for the syringes; two metal piston rods and two metal finger rests for the syringes; one two-dram vial of tincture of iodine; two charts for recording cases; one letter of general instructions; two stamped return envelopes; one record-of-treatment blank; and one vial of sterile wires. The treatment at this time had been reduced to only 21 doses to be administered one a day for 21 days

The kit contains three ampules of rabies vaccine, doses one, two, and three; 26 syringes with physiological salt solution; 26 needles for the syringes; two metal piston rods and two metal finger rests for the syringes; one two-dram vial of tincture of iodine; two charts for recording cases; and one letter of general instructions.

Watch the video below to find out more about rabies and post-exposure vaccination, which is 100% effective if administered right away:

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Rabies – The curse behind Vampires, Werewolves and Zombies?

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Rabies is a viral encephalitis transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected animal, usually a dog, fox or bat.

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The virus travels slowly along  peripheral nerves from the bite to the brain, and it can be several months between the animal bite and onset of the encephalitis.

Once encephalitis sets in, the disease is almost invariably fatal without immunization or post-exposure prophylaxis.

Symptoms include headache, fever, confusion and agitation, paranoia, terror, hallucinations, and delirium.  There is increased salivation, but attempts to drink or swallow lead to  excruciatingly painful spasms of the muscles in the throat and larynx leading to “hydrophobia” (fear of water).

The increased salivation, combined with unwillingness to swallow, leads to profuse drooling of saliva infected with virus.  The encephalitis leads to increased aggressiveness, unprovoked attack and biting, and thus facilitates the spread of the virus.

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Although the only confirmed cases human to human transmission of rabies have been recipients of infected donor organs, folklore has suggested transmission by sex, nursing and biting, inspiring stories about vampires, werewolves, vampires and zombies.

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The similarities between rabies and werewolves needs no further explanation.

In 1998, Juan Gomez-Alonso a Spanish neurologist wrote a paper in Neurology comparing vampirism with human rabies.

The most marked similarity are caused by rabid spasms of the head and throat.

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This leads to clenched teeth with retracted lips like and animal, and inability to swallow saliva with frothing at the mouth and vomiting of bloody fluid.

And the same goes for Zombies:

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These creatures first made fashionable in the 1954 book I am Legend, and then featured in the more recent movies 28 Days Later and World War Z, are even said to be caused by “infections” transmitted when a human is bitten by a demented zombie.

Click here to find out more similarities between Rabies, Vampires, Werewolves and Zombies.