Infectious Diseases, their Nature Cause, and Mode of Spread 1


    ONE of the earliest and most important discoveries was that made by Pasteur as to the possibility of attenuating in action an otherwise virulent microbe—that is to say, he succeeded in so growing the microbes, that when introduced into a suitable animal they caused only a mild and transitory illness, which attack, though mild, is nevertheless capable of making this animal resist a second virulent attack. Jenner, by inoculating vaccine, inoculated a mild or attenuated small-pox, and by so doing protected the individual against a virulent small-pox Pasteur succeeded in producing such an attenuated virus for two infectious diseases—chicken cholera and splenic apoplexy or anthrax; later on also for a third—swine erysipelas. For the first two he produced cultures grown under certain unfavourable conditions, which owing to these conditions lose their virulence, and when inoculated fail to produce the fatal disease, which they would produce if they were grown under normal conditions. What they produce is a transitory mild attack of the disease, but sufficient to protect the animal against a virulent form; thus in anthrax he showed that by growing the Bacillus anthracis at a temperature of 42°˙5–43° C. for one week, the bacilli become slightly weakened in action; growing them for a fortnight at that temperature, they become still more weakened, so much so, that if this culture (première vaccine) be injected into sheep or cattle (animals very susceptible to anthrax) the effect produced is slight; then injecting the culture which has been growing only eight days at 42°˙5, the effect is a little more pronounced, but not sufficient to endanger the life of the animal. Such an animal, however, may be regarded as having passed through a slight attack of anthrax, and as being now protected against a second attack, however virulent the material injected. In the case of swine erysipelas, Pasteur found that the microbe of this disease, transmitted through several rabbits successively, yields a material which is capable of producing in the pig a slight attack of swine erysipelas, sufficient to protect the animal against a second attack of the fatal form. Passing the anthrax virus from however virulent a source through the mouse, it becomes attenuated, and is then capable of producing in sheep only a mild form of disease protective against the fatal disorder. Attenuation of the microbes has been brought about outside the body by growing them under a variety of conditions somewhat unfavourable to the microbe.


    1. 1

      Lecture delivered at the Royal Institution on Friday, February 20, 1891, by E. Klein, M.D., F.R.S., Lecturer on Physiology at St. Bartholomew's Hospital Medical School.

    2. 2

      Ogata and Tasuhara, Mitth. der Med. Facultät d. Kais. Japan Universität, Tokio.

    3. 3

      Behring and Kitisato, Deutsche Med. Woch., 1890, N. 49.

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    Infectious Diseases, their Nature Cause, and Mode of Spread 1. Nature 43, 443–446 (1891) doi:10.1038/043443a0

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