Comprehensive coverage

The cow that defeated the black death

264th birthday of Edward Jenner, the pioneer of vaccines

Edward Jenner. From Wikipedia (free image)
Edward Jenner. From Wikipedia (free image)

Smallpox is a viral disease that causes horrible blisters on the skin. In its severe form, the death rate from the disease reaches 35% of patients. Many of the survivors may suffer from severe side effects, such as blindness and limb deformities. It is estimated that at the end of the 18th century at least 400,000 people died in Europe each year from smallpox, and it is possible that in the 20th century close to half a billion people were killed in an epidemic. The one who paved the way for the eradication of the terrible epidemic was the English doctor Edward Jenner, who was born this week (Friday) 264 years ago, on 17.5.1749.

Cuckoo's Nest

Jenner was the eighth of nine children of an important priest in the town of Berkeley in Gloucestershire, England. Thanks to his status, he received an excellent education, and from the age of 14 he already worked for a local doctor to learn the ropes of the profession. After paying with a surgeon in London, he returned to Berkeley and at the age of 24 already opened his own clinic. In addition to the practice of medicine, Jenner was very interested in research, and was involved in the study of heart disease and blindness, among other things. He was also extensively involved in the study of natural sciences unrelated to medicine, and was mainly interested in birds. Thanks to thorough observations he made, he was the first to prove that it is the cuckoo chicks that push eggs and chicks of other birds from the nests where the cuckoo lays its eggs. In all he refuted the accepted explanation that it is the mother cuckoo that does this. In an anatomical study, he also proved that cuckoo chicks have a depression on their backs, which allows them to effectively lift the eggs, and that this depression disappears by the 12th day of the chick's life.

Straight from the barn

Jenner made his most important scientific breakthrough in 1796.
He noticed an interesting phenomenon that caught his attention - women who worked milking cows and contracted cowpox (which was an unpleasant disease, but much less dangerous than smallpox), were apparently vaccinated against smallpox. He wondered if it was possible to take this vaccine and apply it to humans, especially children, who were the main victims of the serious disease. By the way, Jenner was not the first to notice the phenomenon, probably not the first to understand its meaning, but he was the first to actually examine it. He extracted pus from the smallpox of one of the milkmaids, and injected it into the eight-year-old James Phipps, the son of the gardener who lived with him. To prove that he was now vaccinated, he injected the boy with smallpox, and indeed Phipps did not develop the disease. Jenner wrote an article about his achievement and sent it for publication in Bethune, the Royal Society, but there they were not impressed and replied that the idea was too revolutionary and more proof was needed. He repeated the experiment with several other children, including his infant son, and sent the article again. In 1798, the revolutionary breakthrough was published and Jenner was met with ridicule. His many critics, including religious people, expressed a strong distaste for a vaccine derived from an animal (and another cow!), and cartoons from the time showed his patients growing cow heads. However, gradually the enormous importance of the vaccine he developed became clear, and ridicule was replaced by respect and appreciation.

Ahead of his time

Jenner could not know how his vaccine affected the body, at a time when microscopy was in its infancy, and microbiology was not yet a science. Today we know that cells of the immune system produce unique proteins, called antibodies, which correspond exactly to the spatial portion of molecules identified with foreign bodies to the body. The antibodies stick to these molecules, neutralize the agent that carries them (virus or bacteria), and help other cells of the immune system to destroy it. The antibodies created against the cowpox virus were effective against the smallpox viruses and so Jenner's vaccination method was successful. Before his time, there was an attempt to vaccinate children through a gentle infection with smallpox (scratching the skin with material taken from a patient's bladder). The success of this method was very partial, and many of the vaccinated paid for it with their lives. With that, it should be noted that it operated on the same principle, and patients who received a low dose of the virus, or were infected with a non-lethal strain, did apparently develop a vaccine.

The method developed by Jenner was later used for vaccines against other diseases, and to a partial extent it is still used today, for example in the production of serum against snake bites. It also has a lot of use in medical research - many times injecting a certain substance into an animal and isolating the antibodies against it are an important tool in identifying different properties of the substance. It was Jenner who coined the term currently accepted for vaccination, thanks to the origin of his treatment (vacca - in Latin: cow). By the way, in the library of the medical school St. George, still hanging from the skin of Blossom the cow, which according to legend infected the milkmaid from which the pus was taken and injected into the Phipps boy in the historic experiment.

There is an end to everything

Following the breakthrough, Jenner focused on research, and almost completely stopped his work at the clinic. He received generous research grants from the Royal Palace and Parliament, and was even appointed special physician to King George IV. He also received outrageous honors, and was appointed mayor of Berkeley, and a justice of the peace. The use of the vaccine he developed for smallpox became more and more common, although it would be many years after his death from a stroke in 1823, before actual eradication of the disease began. Later on, of course, the vaccine from dairy cows' blisters was replaced by a more advanced vaccine, using killed and weakened viruses, but in the end the effort bore fruit. In 1975, the last patient with the deadly form of the virus was diagnosed in Bangladesh, and two years later, the last patient to date with the milder virus was also diagnosed in Somalia. In 1980, the World Health Organization confirmed the findings of an expert committee that the disease had indeed been eradicated and passed from the world. Samples of the virus are still kept in well-guarded laboratories in the US and Russia, and the two countries have not yet agreed to destroy the viruses, despite recommendations from medical officials.

7 תגובות

  1. At that time only about half of the children would reach adulthood and in general life was not of much value when adults were also dying all the time from various diseases.

  2. "Injected the boy with smallpox"
    "He repeated the experiment with several other children, including his baby son"

    good old days
    Ahhh, the world used to be a paradise for mad scientists

  3. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa A special and fascinating article!! In general, the subject of 'smallpox' is a particularly interesting subject, since this disease was known, until the 21st century, as the most threatening disease known to the whole world since the days of Genesis!!! And the grotesque title is amazing! She perfectly embodies the great content of the article!! I had a great time—- lolliyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!!!

  4. wow!!!! An instructive article on immeasurable levels... I was captivated until the end!! You're on your way to greatness!!

Leave a Reply

Email will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismat to prevent spam messages. Click here to learn how your response data is processed.