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Is Virology Prehistoric?

Updated on April 12, 2016
hieroglyphics, egyptian
hieroglyphics, egyptian | Source
rameses v tomb
rameses v tomb | Source
Smallpox vaccination
Smallpox vaccination | Source
Edward Jenner
Edward Jenner | Source

We now realize that ancient peoples were not only aware of the affects of viral infections but they also carried out active research into the causes and prevention of viral diseases. Maybe the first written record of a viral infection was hieroglyph from Memphis, the capital of ancient Egypt drawn in 3700 BC, which may depict a temple priest showing clinical signs of paralytic poliomyelitis. Pharaoh Rameses V,who died in 1196 BC and whose well preserved mummified body is now in Cairo museum is believed to have had smallpox. The comparison between pustular lesions on the face of the mummy and those of more recent patients is startling.

Smallpox was endemic in China by 1000 BC, thus so the practice of variolation was developed.Recognizing that survivors of smallpox outbreaks were protected from further infection, the Chinese inhaled the dried crust from smallpox lesions like snuff,or inoculated the pus into a scratch on the forearm.Variolation was practiced for centuries and was shown to be an effective method of disease prevention. But in fact,it was risky because the outcome of the inoculation was never certain.

On May 14,1796 Edward Jenner used cow-pox infected material obtained from the hand of Sarah Nemes , a milkmaid from his home village in Berkeley in Gloucestershire, England to vaccinate 8 year old James Phipps. Thus, vaccination against smallpox was almost universally adopted worldwide during the nineteenth century.

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