Wednesday, May 14, 2014

No Pox on Your House?—Thank Edward Jenner

The Jenny McCarthys of their day heaped scorn on Dr. Jenner and his cow pox vaccine.

On May 14, 1794 British physician Dr. Edward Jenner inoculated James Phipps, the six year old son of his gardener, with a dose of cow pox.  Later, he exposed the boy to dreaded small pox and the boy seemed immune.  He repeated the experiment on other members of his community, including his own son Edward and reported his findings to the Royal Medical Society. 
Within two years his sensational findings were reported all over Europe and vaccination (from the Latin vacca for cow) was becoming common.  Prior to this discovery up to 40% of those exposed to small pox died.  Vaccination was nearly 100% effective against the disease and resulted in virtually no deaths. 
Soon in areas where vaccination was standard the illness was eliminated.  By 1974, after a world-wide vaccination campaign by the United Nations, small pox was declared eradicated.  Since then an isolated outbreak in Africa was brought under control by an emergency inoculation program. 
Jenner was not the first to use exposure from pox to build immunity from the disease latter.  There are reports of inoculation, or “infusion” with mild forms of small pox as far back as 1000 years ago in India. 
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, wife of the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, described the custom in Turkey, where fatal epidemics of the disease were rare.  Material made from the scabs of small pox victims was introduced into the blood by several small cuts over the body.  The inoculated came down with a mild form of the illness, generally running fevers for two or three days with a few of the characteristic small pox lesions mild enough not to leave scaring, and completely recovering in eight days.  This method still had about 1.5% fatality rate and made the patients quite ill for a few days, but compared to the huge number of deaths ordinarily associated with small pox, the severity of the illness even among survivors, and the life-long scarring from multiple deep lesions it was preferable. 
In 1821, shortly after receiving Lady Motagu’s report, a new small pox epidemic broke out in Britain, interesting the Royal Family.  They ordered tests on prisoners confirming her observations and soon allowed their own children to be inoculated.  The custom spread, especially among the wealthy. 
Even earlier In 1706 Massachusetts Puritan minister Cotton Mather independently observed that his slave, and other bonded Africans seemed immune to small pox and discovered that they had undergone some form of inoculation in their native lands before being captured by slave traders.  A trial of the inoculation procedure revealed 4 deaths out of 244 (about 2.5%) as opposed to 844 deaths among 5980 who contracted small pox unprotected.  Inoculation became common first in Boston and then across the Colonies despite some vigorous opposition. 
In 1777, after initial reluctance, General George Washington ordered the inoculation of all of his troops who had not previously come down with the illness.  He may have been encouraged by Dr. Benjamin Rush. 
Jenner was not even the first person to note that exposure to cow pox immunized against small pox.  Many people had noted that those who worked with cows, including dairy maids, seldom contracted the deadly disease.  In fact the storied associations of milk maids with beauty may have been because they seldom bore the horrible scars of small pox that afflicted so many. 
As early as 1727 James Jura produced statistical studies that showed that those who had been exposed to cow pox were immune from small pox.  A Dr. Fewster published an article in the journal of the London Medical Society entitled Cow pox and its ability to prevent smallpox in 1765.  In 1774 Benjamin Jesty, a Dorset farmer inoculated his family with cow pox.  Two or three others in Germany and Britain performed similar studies and experiments with vaccination before Jenner. 
But it was Jenner’s studies that broke out to a wide audience and introduced vaccination on a wide scale which is why today he is regarded as the Father of Immunization.  
And Jenny McCarthy and assorted anti-science faddists are still mad at him.

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