History of Rabies Vaccination

Rabies is an infection that killed almost every one of its victims before a vaccination was developed. Rabies is speculated to have existed in the United States before colonization by European settlers. The first documented incident of terrestrial rabies occurred in 1703 on the land that later became California. Dogs and foxes were the most common carriers of rabies outbreaks in the 1700s. The problem was exacerbated by the importation of dogs and red foxes from England to the United States for the sport of fox hunting.

  1. Original Subject

    • Dogs and foxes were known to be carriers of rabies.
      Dogs and foxes were known to be carriers of rabies.

      On July 6, 1885, the very first rabies vaccination for postexposure treatment was given to a 9-year-old boy by the name of Joseph Meister. Joseph Meister had been mauled by a dog infected by rabies. Two French scientists, Emile Roux and Louis Pasteur, developed the first vaccine and administered it to the boy. Joseph Meister recovered and lived until the age of 54.

    Original Development

    • The original vaccine was created from dead infected rabbits.
      The original vaccine was created from dead infected rabbits.

      The original rabies vaccine developed by Louis Pasteur and Emile Roux was created by harvesting the virus from a dead infected rabbit. The virus was then put out to dry for 5 to 10 days, weakening it significantly. The weakened virus was then injected into the patient, effectively infecting him with a mild form of the virus. This allowed the human to build up an immunity to the virus, with a small risk of succumbing to the vaccine. Other countries still use a form of tissue-derived vaccines because they are a great deal cheaper than modern vaccines. However, they are not as efficient as modern vaccines and carry a risk of neurological complications.

    Modern Development

    • In 1967 the human diploid cell rabies vaccine, H.D.C.V., was created. The H.D.C.V. is widely used; it had been administered to more than 1.5 million people as of 2006. The vaccine was one of the first freeze-dried, sterile and stable vaccinations and claims 100 percent efficiency when used correctly.

    Modern Use

    • The Phillippines project developed a vaccine for dogs.
      The Phillippines project developed a vaccine for dogs.

      The Van Houweling Research Laboratory, a part of the Silliman University Medical Center located in the Philippines, created a version of the vaccine for dogs. In 1979 Dr. George Beran headed the project that gave dogs a 3-year immunity from rabies. The program was successful, eliminating rabies from multiple parts of the Mindanao and Visayas islands. Since the program succeeded so well it has been used as a model for other rabies vaccination programs in countries such as Ecuador and the Yucatan State of Mexico. Another modern form of the rabies vaccination is the Vero cell rabies vaccine developed inexpensively by using purified chicken embryo cells.

    Recombinant Rabies Vaccine

    • The V-RG is proven to be safe for hawks and other wildlife.
      The V-RG is proven to be safe for hawks and other wildlife.

      The V-RG vaccine was created in 1984 by people at the Wistar Institute. They created it by taking the glycoprotein gene from rabies and inserting it into the vaccinia virus. It was turned into a commercial product with the trademark Raboral. It has been proven to be harmless to humans and safe for a large variety of wildlife that might accidentally get it from prey. The V-RG vaccine has been used in the United States, Belgium, Germany and France to prevent rabies outbreaks in wildlife. It is orally administered, so is given to wildlife through bait. Through this method, Germany had been completely free of new rabies cases for 2 years as of 2008, and is believed to be rabies-free altogether. Vaccinating wildlife results in a drastic reduction in the number of human cases.

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  • Photo Credit raccoon image by antoine perroud from Fotolia.com fox image by DOLPHIN from Fotolia.com rabbit image by Henryk Olszewski from Fotolia.com Dog image by Lea Petrasova from Fotolia.com hawk image by Earl Robbins from Fotolia.com

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