For many centuries, smallpox devastated mankind. In the 18th century in Europe alone, 400,000 people died annually of smallpox, and one third of the survivors went blind For many years. The word variola was commonly used for smallpox and is derived from the Latin word varius, meaning “stained,”. Edward Jenner, a medical practioner, had heard the tales that dairymaids were protected from smallpox naturally after having suffered from cowpox. Pondering this, Jenner concluded that cowpox not only protected against smallpox but also could be transmitted from one person to another as a deliberate mechanism of protection.
In May 1796, Edward Jenner found a young dairymaid, Sarah Nelms, who had fresh cowpox lesions on her hands and arms. On May 14, using matter from Nelms’ lesions, he inoculated an 8-year-old boy, James Phipps. Subsequently, the boy developed mild fever and discomfort in the axillae. Nine days after the procedure he felt cold and had lost his appetite, but on the next day he was much better. In July 1796, Jenner inoculated the boy again, this time with matter from a fresh smallpox lesion. No disease developed, and Jenner concluded that protection was complete.
In 1797, Jenner sent a short communication to the Royal Society describing his experiment and observations. However, the paper was rejected. Then in 1798, having added a few more cases to his initial experiment, Jenner privately published a small booklet on the subject. The Latin word for cow is vacca, and cowpox is vaccinia; Jenner decided to call this new procedure vaccination. Jenner conducted a nationwide survey in search of proof of resistance to smallpox or to variolation among persons who had cowpox. The results of this survey confirmed his theory. Jenner’s work represented the first scientific attempt to control an infectious disease by the deliberate use of vaccination. Strictly speaking, he did not discover vaccination but was the first person to confer scientific status on the procedure and to pursue its scientific investigation.
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