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Sunday, January 26, 2014

This Day in Science History - January 26 - Jenner and Cowpox Vaccine

January 26th marks the passing of Edward Jenner. Jenner was the English physician who noticed milk maids who had been infected with cowpox seemed to never contract the more serious disease, smallpox. Smallpox kills a third of the people who contract the disease, but if a person survives smallpox, they never catch it again. Variolation was the predominant smallpox treatment of the time. Variolation is when healthy people are exposed to a disease in hopes of giving them a milder (survivable) case of the disease. Between 2 and 3% of people exposed to variolation died.

Dr. Jenner tried a different route. He collected the pus from a cowpox sore on a milk maid and injected it into a young boy. He developed cowpox but quickly got over it. A couple weeks later Jenner exposed the boy to smallpox. He did not develop the disease. Jenner called his treatment a vaccine, from the Latin 'vaca', which means 'cow'. This treatment quickly became a standard treatment and is used for many different diseases.

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