Thank you, cows…thank you, Jenner!

Smallpox in Italy….again! Can you believe it? The recurrent cycles of human history…

It seems that there are some suspected or even confirmed cases of monkeypox, a rare viral infection related to smallpox,  in the United States, Canada and several European countries,probably coming from Africa. Lately, the first case of monkey smallpox has even been identified in Italy, too!  A man returning from a stay in the Canary Islands presented smallpox symptoms and some tests carried out at the hospital “Spallanzani”l (Rome) seem to confirm that. 

About smallpox, human beings owe a lot to Edward Jenner, because he invented the first vaccine: do you know that the words “vaccine/vaccination”  are taken from the Latin word “vacca” that  means cow? What is the link between a cow and the special type of ‘medicine’ that trains the body’s immune system in order to fight a disease, then? 

Edward was born on May 17, 1749 in Berkeley in England:  thanks to his ingenious experiments, he saved the world from smallpox and paved the way for immunological studies. In fact, he understood that there were two types of smallpox: human smallpox, which was very powerful and left no escape for its victims, and a less serious animal smallpox, instead.  With regard to smallpox epidemics, Jenner observed that a lot of milkers in the countryside were often affected by cowpox, a much lighter variation of human smallpox which was instead devastating. He also observed that those who had contracted the bovine variation had also acquired protection against the human variant. So in 1796 the scientist  extracted some pus from a pustule on a milker’s hand and inoculated it into a nine-year-old boy: after being infected by the human smallpox, too, the child only had mild symptoms: headache, feeling cold, pain in the armpit but within a week he recovered. As a matter of fact, the boy had  developed a certain immunity thanks to the previous cowpox inoculation. Edward later discovered that inoculating  the pus from a pustule of a person who had already had human smallpox was a good solution to let  people recover without any other serious symptoms by acquiring immunity. 

Jenner died on May 26, 1823 because of a stroke. What a shame…he saved a lot of lives but nobody was able to save him! However,  he still lives in eternity because he  will always be remembered as the inventor of the first vaccine, a ‘milestone’ in defeating life-threatening diseases.

PHOTO CREDITS: “E. Jenner” by Gordon Johnson (Pixabay) ; “Cow” by Ulriche Leone (Pixabay)

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