No more rabies (1885)

Note: This article may feature affiliate links to or other companies. Qualifying purchases made via these links may earn us a small commission at no additional cost to you. Find out more here.

“Hydrophobia” sounds like a fear of water — but it really refers to rabies, especially the later stages of the disease. Pasteur, a French chemist who created the first vaccines for both rabies and anthrax — as well as invented the process that helps make milk and other liquids (and occasionally foods) safer to consume. That method is called pasteurization — yes, that word that is still stamped on nearly every container of milk you can buy today.
No more hydrophobia

Dr Louis Pasteur’s cure for the mad dog’s bite

No more hydrophobia! No more mad dogs! Dr Louis Pasteur’s experiments have resulted in a most brilliant success at perhaps the most important sitting held by the academy of sciences.

Dr Pasteur thus described the process of cure by means of a rabbit inoculated with the fragment of tissue taken from the spine of a rabid dog. The incubation of the poison occupied fifteen days. As soon as the first rabbit inoculated was dead, a portion from its spinal marrow was in turn inoculated into a second rabbit, and so on, until sixty rabbits had been inoculated. At each successive inoculation, the virus increased in potency, and the last period of inoculation did not occupy more than seven days.

The scientific process

Having ascertained that exposure to dried air diminished the virus, and consequently reduced its force, Dr Pasteur supplied himself with a series of bottles of dried air. In these bottles, he placed portions of inoculated spinal marrow at successive dates, the oldest being the least virulent and the latent the most so.

For an operation, Dr Pasteur begins by inoculating his subject with the oldest tissue, and finishes by the injection of a piece of tissue whose bottling dates back only two days, and whose period of incubation would not exceed one week. The subject is then found to be absolutely proof against the disease.

MORE  Unidentified but not forgotten: Antique portraits from Cincinnati

A boy, twelve years of ago, named Meister, who had been bitten fourteen times, came from Alsace with his mother to see Dr Pasteur. The autopsy of the dog which had bitten the boy left no doubt as to it having suffered from hydrophobia. Dr Pasteur took the celebrated Dr Vulpian and a professor of the school of medicine to see the boy Meister. These two doctors came to the conclusion that the boy was doomed to a painful death and might be experimented upon.

In thirteen days, inoculations were made upon Meister with pieces of spinal marrow containing virus of constantly increasing strength, the last being from the spine of a rabbit that died only the day before. Now a hundred days have passed since Meister underwent the last inoculation. The treatment has been thoroughly successful and the boy is in perfect health. He had been bitten sixty hours and had traveled from Alsace to Paris before the first inoculation was performed.

A shepherd boy named Judith, aged 15, was bitten by a mad dog a fortnight ago, and has now been a week under treatment. Dr Pasteur is confident of curing him.

Having inoculations at the ready

Dr Pasteur said that it was now necessary to provide an establishment where rabbits might always be kept inoculated with the disease. In this way, a constant supply of spinal tissues of old and recent inoculation would always be ready. Before the sitting was adjourned, Dr Pasteur received an enthusiastic ovation from both the academy itself and the public who were present. Among those present was noticed the Grand Duke Alexis, who is a great dog fancier, and M de Lesseps, who went to hear Dr Pasteur’s report endorsed by Dr Vulpian.

One of the leading doctors present remarked that the question was whether a man cured of hydrophobia could suffer from a second bite. In other words, whether the inoculation of virus was a guarantee against hydrophobia. In answer, Dr Pasteur stated that the malady is transmissible only by bite. If, therefore, by a general compulsory inoculation of dogs for several generations — dogs had been made incapable of hydrophobia — the malady would have disappeared, and there would be no occasion to ask whether inoculation had a permanent effect or not.

MORE  Timer & The Incredible, Indelible, Magical, Physical, Mystery Trip (1973)

Where did rabies come from?

As to the origin of hydrophobia, Dr Pasteur says nobody in the world can explain its primal causes. As he remarked — perhaps out of politeness — his theory will require study by the profession in order to make it practical, but he emphatically stated that the cure for hydrophobia had been found.


Photo of a dog c1885 courtesy George Eastman House

More stories you might like

See our books

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest

join the fun

Don’t miss out on the latest and greatest vintage stuff!

Sign up for our free weekly newsletter here.