Remarkable Pasteur Manuscript on Rabies Research Eight Months before the First Successful Human Vaccination

Signed by Louis Pasteur

Item: 21590
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PASTEUR, LOUIS. (1822-1895). French chemist and microbiologist who conducted pioneering research on rabies, chicken cholera and anthrax; discovered the process, named pasteurization in his honor, through which bacteria in liquids are destroyed by heating. AMs. Unsigned. 1¼pp. Small 4to. Arbois, October 1, 1884. In French with translation.

“Do dogs exist (as a race or individually) that are naturally immune to rabies?

I have often read that rabies does not exist in Constantinople. However, several people I have consulted, most notably Dr. Fauvel, who have lived there for a long time, confirmed to me that they have  definitely seen rabid dogs and people with rabies who have been bitten by those dogs in Constantinople. 

Although it is very rare, you can live a long time in Turkey without ever having seen a rabid dog or even heard of its existence.

It is understandable how the rumor was spread that rabid dogs do not exist. Nobody denies the existence of rabies in either Africa or Egypt.

In 1884, I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Sergent a French public health doctor who has been living in Beirut for the past 27 years. He assured me that he had never seen a single case of rabies, either in dogs or in humans.

These facts force me to ask the question which is the subject of this note.

To resolve these queries experimentally, I asked Doctor Sergent to kindly send me some dogs from Beirut so that I could once and for all prove their immunity against rabies.

On July 19, 1884, I received four dogs native to Beirut that Dr. Sergent generously sent me.

On July 21, after having assured myself that three of them were healthy, lively and gay and had not suffered from the voyage, (Note: The 4th one was not eating and did not survive), I inoculated one of them by the method of trepanation with the medulla from the rabid dog which had died that morning after having been bitten on June 26, while in the care of Mr. Paul Simon, veterinarian in Paris.

At the same time, we trepanned and inoculated a rabbit with the same brain matter from the dead dog to verify its potency.

On July 30, the dog which had been trepanned began to change its behavior. He seemed agitated. It was the ninth day after inoculation.

On July 31, the dog begins to bite and has a rabies like bark. His back legs are paralyzed.

On August 1, he becomes more and more enraged and is biting more.

On August 4, after having been madly enraged and furiously biting with a rabid bark, the dog from Beirut demonstrates a distinctly rabid behavior, the mouth hanging open and barely barking.

On August 5, he is clearly dying.

On August 6, we find him dead in the morning.

As of August 4, the rabbit which had been operated on by the method of trepanning on July 21, began to show that it was infected with rabies as it exhibited the beginning of paralysis. It was 14 days after being inoculated, which is the typical amount of incubation time for rabies in street dogs, when rabbits are infected by dogs.

Although it was obvious that the dog from Beirut died of rabies, we wanted to verify the existence of the disease by transmitting it to rabbits; inoculated by trepanning, the rabbits manifest a rabid paralysis after 16-18 days of incubation.

Other healthy rabbits, inoculated by trepanation from the first one that died, suffered from rabid paralysis, one of them after 10 days and the other after 18 days of incubation.

To summarize, the dogs from Beirut responded in the exact same manner as the dogs from France.

If rabies has never been observed in Beirut by Dr. Sergent, and if it does not seem to exist in Syria, it is because no one has ever brought it there.

The dogs of these countries are ostensibly as susceptible as ours.

So, our answer to the initial question we asked is NO. We have here a strong argument in favor of the opinion that rabies is never spontaneous.

Finally, I must say that it was easy to immunize the two dogs who arrived from Beirut by preventive inoculations with the virus from the one to which I had transmitted rabies.

These two dogs which were immunized can tolerate today as many consecutive injections of the rabies virus as we want without the slightest effect.”

Louis Pasteur

During the 19th century, the theory of spontaneous generation was still commonplace. Although not the first to contradict this point of view, Pasteur was the first scientist to prove the contradictory germ theory, that diseases were caused by microorganisms. During the 1860s, he conducted a series of experiments involving fermentation, silkworm diseases and anthrax which proved that various diseases were all caused by microorganisms. His work led to the implementation of sterile surgical techniques, the process of pasteurization to kill food-born pathogens in milk and other beverages, and the successful vaccination of animals against anthrax and chicken cholera.

Having witnessed a horrifying fatal outbreak of rabies as a boy, Pasteur, in 1882, chose to focus his research on developing a rabies vaccine. Although he had contributed much to microbial theory supplanting the theory of spontaneous generation, the idea of spontaneous rabies was still accepted in France as a fact in the 1870s, where mere domestication was thought to contribute to rabies. Among the large number of such published accounts was the Paris veterinarian cited in our letter, Paul Simon’s 1874 account, Observations sur la spontanéité de la rage. It was accepted as common knowledge that rabies did not exist the East, where dogs were free to roam the street. “‘Constantinople and Africa are rabies-free’ was the oft repeated refrain, and Eastern freedom was contrasted with Western repression, with Paris, where rabies found its refuge,” (“La Rage and the Bourgeoisie: The Cultural Context of Rabies in the French Nineteenth Century, Representations, Kete).

Our 1884 manuscript documents Pasteur’s work to counter the theory of spontaneous rabies and the myth that dogs from the East were impervious to the disease, by exposing dogs from Beirut, Syria (modern Lebanon) to rabies. Eight months after documenting this experiment, on July 6, 1885, Pasteur used a weakened form of the virus to save the life of a nine-year-old boy who had been attacked by a rabid dog. The success of his vaccine, his most celebrated scientific achievement, was recognized with the 1888 opening of the Pasteur Institute in Paris. Pasteur led the institution, whose mission was to research the treatment and prevention of rabies, until his death in 1895.

Dr. Fauvel is mentioned in René Vallery-Radot The Life of Pasteur, which notes a brief exchange that Pasteur had with him at an 1883 meeting of the Académie des Sciences in which Fauvel expressed skepticism over the results of Pasteur’s experiments.

Written from Pasteur’s home in Arbois where he had recently constructed a laboratory. In excellent condition. Even though Pasteur letters on the subject of rabies occasionally appear for sale, working manuscripts on the subject are rare.

Remarkable Pasteur Manuscript on Rabies Research Eight Months before the First Successful Human Vaccination

Signed by Louis Pasteur

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