|MadSci Network: Virology|
Just over 200 years ago an English physician, Edward Jenner, noticed that milkmaids rarely caught smallpox. He reasoned that this was because they had previously caught a similar but relatively harmless disease, cowpox. Few people infected with cowpox subsequently caught smallpox. Jenner tested his reasoning by infecting a young boy with cowpox then exposing him to smallpox. The boy did not develop smallpox, so Jenner repeated the process with others – this was the first use of vaccination. (The word ‘vaccination’ comes from Jenner's use of cowpox; the Latin word vacca means cow.)
Before Jenner, both ancient Chinese and Indian physicians were known to take the scabs from patients suffering from mild smallpox, grind them with other materials to a fine powder and blow it into the noses of susceptible individuals as a form of vaccination against the disease.
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