The Importance Of The Influenza Vaccine

1632 words - 7 pages

Illnesses have long haunted the human race. As long as these illnesses have existed, humans have developed ways to cure themselves, beginning with simple herbs and proceeding as far as vaccines and complex medicines. One cure that long eluded scientists was that of the influenza virus. Now, the influenza vaccine, or flu shot, saves thousands of lives a year and helps prevent serious complications resulting from influenza infection.
At no time was a search for the cure for influenza more frantic than after the devastating effects of the pandemic of 1918. The pandemic killed somewhere between twenty and a hundred million people, making it twenty five times more deadly than the ordinary cough and sneeze flu. The symptoms of this flu were like something straight out of a horror movie: the victim’s facial complexion changed to a dark, brownish purple, the feet turned black, and they began to cough up blood. Eventually, death was caused, literally by drowning, when the victim’s lungs filled with their own blood. The first scientist to claim to solve the enigma of influenza was Dr. Friedrich Johann Pfeiffer. He isolated a bacterium he named Hemophilus influenzae from the respiratory tract of those who had the flu in the pandemic of 1890. He was believed to be correct in his discovery until the pandemic of 1918, when scientists searched the respiratory tracts of influenza victims and only sometimes found his bacterium. Robert E. Shope and his mentor Paul Lewis were the next to attempt to crack the code of influenza. They chose to study the disease in pigs, a controversial choice because many people believed that the swine influenza pigs were contracting was not the same as the human flu. The first experiment they ran was based off of Pfieffer’s earlier research: taking the bacterium Hemophilus influenzae and attempting to infect a healthy pig. The first attempt was a great success, but when they tried the same experiment again, the second pig remained perfectly healthy. Even after repeating this experiment dozens of times, a pig never became sick. While working with the yellow fever virus in his lab, Paul Lewis became infected with it and died. Robert Shope, even though distressed at the loss of his mentor, continued the influenza research, going back to the idea that the flu was caused by a virus. To act upon his theory, Shope filtered the mucus from sick pigs through a filter that allows only viruses through. He administered the virus to healthy pigs, but they did not become infected. Shope was beginning to believe that the cause of influenza is what is known as multifactorial, when a disease has no single cause. He postulated that perhaps the virus and the bacterium must work together to cause influenza. Professor Wilson Smith, Sir Christopher Andrewes, and Sir P. P. Laidlaw were investigating a pandemic in England at the same time as Shope was conducting his research. They began attempting to infect ferrets by giving them...

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