Acquired Immunity from Insect Stings

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Abstract

MAY I beg to add a few lines to the very interesting correspondence and discussion regarding the immunity of man from insect-stings and snake-bites after successive inoculations. The letter of Dr. Dawson Williams, in NATURE of March 4, calls attention to a certain degree of immunity which obtains among the Norwegians from the stings of the myg, a kind of gnat (probably our midge, Anglo-Saxon mygge). His statements in regard to the degree of immunity varying in different individuals, is quite in accordance with our experience with the mosquito. His pathological description of the effects of the sting of the Norwegian myg would apply most accurately to the sting of the mosquito. We also become more or less immuned from the mosquito poison after much suffering in childhood. The swelling resulting from the mosquito sting will often close the eyes of an infant. In middle age the sting is hardly noticeable. English and Irish people, upon first coming to this country, suffer beyond measure, and often come under the care of a surgeon. It is a curious yet painful sight to see a brawny Englishman presenting the appearance of our young infants under the infliction of these pests. I have two Irish servants, who have been in this country two and seven years respectively. They both tell me that the mosquito bite, as it is called, no longer troubles them, though they were eloquent in the descriptions of their acute sufferings at the outset. More than a quarter of a century ago Dr. J. C. White, a distinguished dermatologist, of Boston, in a communication to the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, November 9, 1871, discusses the subject fully in a paper entitled, “On the protection acquired by the human skin and other tissues against the action of certain poisons after repeated inoculation.” He not only shows the immunity arising from the repeated stings of mosquitos, but notices a like immunity arising from the domestic pests, Pediculus, Cimex and Pulex. An American recalls his first experiences with the flea in Europe with the same horror that an Englishman remembers the welcome he received from the mosquito in America.

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