On July 6, 1885, Louis Pasteur and his colleagues injected the first of 14 daily doses of rabbit spinal cord suspensions containing progressively inactivated rabies virus into 9-year-old Joseph Meister, who had been severely bitten by a rabid dog 2 days before. This was the beginning of the modern era of immunization, which had been presaged by Edward Jenner nearly 100 years earlier.
Pasteur's decision to treat the child followed 4 years of intensive research, culminating in the development of a vaccine capable of protecting experimentally challenged rabbits and dogs. His decision was difficult: "The child's death appeared inevitable. I decided not without acute and harrowing anxiety, as may be imagined, to apply to Joseph Meister the method which I had found consistently successful with dogs" (1). The immunization was successful; and the Pasteur rabies immunization procedure was rapidly adopted throughout the world. By 1890, there were rabies treatment centers in Budapest, Madras, Algiers, Bandung, Florence, Sao Paulo, Warsaw, Shanghai, Tunis, Chicago, New York, and many other places throughout the world.
The basic "Pasteur Treatment," based on brain tissue vaccine with the addition of formaldehyde, is still used in many countries of the world where rabies is prevalent. This treatment still involves immunizations given daily for 14-21 days, and it still carries the same risk of neurologic sequelae as in Pasteur's day. In the United States and other developed countries, more potent, safer, but very expensive, cell culture-based rabies vaccines are combined with hyperimmune globulin for postexposure treatment. The efficacy of such regimens has been well proven.
Another era in vaccine development is now beginning--an era based on the practical application of recombinant-deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) technology and other novel genetic manipulations of rabies and other viruses and microorganisms. These new technologies promise even more potent and safer vaccines, as well as lower costs, improved stability, and easier delivery throughout the world to people at risk.
the background image: Modern rabies testing examines brain tissue slices
specially prepared with fluorescein-isothiocyanate,
(FITC) dye. Slides are read under a fluorescence microscope in a dark room. If the brain tissue is positive, rabies antigen will appear bright green under the fluoresecent microscope, as shown in the background image. (source)
Main text from the
Centennial article Historical
MMVR, 5 July 1985, Centers For Disease Control
All material in the MMWR Series is in the public domain
Cuny H. Louis Pasteur: the man and his theories. Greenwich, Connecticut: Fawcett Publications, Inc., 1963:173.
Dubos RJ. Louis Pasteur: free lance of science. Boston, Massachusetts: Little, Brown and Co., 1950:352-3.