Who developed the first Rabies Vaccine?

Rabies Vaccine, Pasteur, Roux and Hydrophobia

Vaccines, Current and Past, for Prevention and Treatment of Rabies.   Rabies is a dreaded disease. Untreated rabies, spread by rabid animals’ bites, is a death sentence. Pasteur’s vaccine worked to protect against this bullet-shaped virus.

Dr. Louis Pasteur, chemist and microbiologist, already had:

  • saved the French wineries from wine spoilage by his recommended pure yeast cultures and heat treatments (pasteurization).
  • solved a silkworm disease issue.
  • showed chicken cholera could be prevented by weakened vaccines.

There remained more explorations, like anthrax and rabies. Pasteur was ready to experiment. He enlisted young, enthusiastic medical doctors, Roux, Chamberland and Thuillier, to help with treatments and procedures for animals and people. Soon, Team Pasteur’s vaccine discoveries would become written in medical history forever.

Rabies, Signs andSymptoms, Natural Disease History

Rabid dogs, foxes, skunks, raccoons, wolves, even bats, acted wildly and bit people occasionally. Imagine next, the biter and the bitten, each dying within weeks or months of these horrible incidents. Rabies was a mysterious and little-studied disease in Pasteur’s era.

Rabies causes irrational, uncontrollable behavior. The viruses travel from a bite site, through nerves, to the brain. They come to rest in the hippocampus, at the Horn of Ammon, and form diagnostic Negri bodies that contain clusters of the bullet-shaped viruses. Rabies is a sure death sentence without vaccine treatment. In humans, the signs of rabies includes:

  • hydrophobia (water fear),
  • painful spasms upon swallowing,
  • apprehension, hallucinations, tremors, shakes, convulsions and,
  • eventually, coma and death.

Early Rabies Vaccine Studies and Development

Rabies is an unpleasant and deadly disease to study. Team Pasteur had one real need – animals. Pasteur knew the rabies agent was infectious, transmissible. Nobody had seen, or cultivated, the agent. The team pursued using rabbits and dogs to study rabies. Animal research is unpleasant to many today, but let it be said that in 1880, without these animals, a vaccine that saves animals and people, would not have been found. Using saliva from rabid animals and nervous tissue extracts, the team injected and passaged the virus through rabbits and dogs to produce a weakened strain, as Pasteur had done with chicken cholera.

Nothing seemed to work. Weeks turned into unsuccessful months. Undaunted, Pasteur told his colleagues to take nerve tissue, dry it in sterile jars and then inject that material. That procedure was done. Within weeks, new experiments revealed that the dried material contained weakened viruses. Inoculated, test animals survived the solutions of nerve tissue injected into them. When virulent virus was used for injection challenges, immunized animals survived!

It looked successful, but every experiment when repeated did not work each time for every animal. One fateful day, a challenge came.

The Rabies Victim and the First Human Test of Rabies’ Vaccine

Joseph Meister, a 9-year-old, was brought to Pasteur for a rabies treatment. Pasteur objected and indicated his vaccine was not ready and he could not use it for fear of killing the boy with the vaccine. The mother pleaded that her son was doomed to death without the vaccine, a consulting physician agreed. Pasteur and Roux prepared the vaccine and administered it over a period of weeks, 14 injections in all. The boy survived! Team Pasteur had won! It became known as the Pasteur treatment for rabies.

Current Rabies Treatments

Today there are several improved vaccines for rabies:

  • HDCV, Human Diploid Cell Vaccine, prepared in tissue culture from normal human fibroblasts (WI-38), ultrafiltrate-purified rabies, inactivated by B-propriolactone.
  • PCEC, Purified Chick Embryo Vaccine, ultracentrifuged concentrate, inactivated by B-propriolactone.
  • LAV, Live Attenuated Vaccine, Flury strain, grown in chick embryos, for animals only.

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