REAL LIFE

How A Stubborn Doctor Saved The World From Tetanus In 1891 While Others Reaped The Fruits

Date June 14, 2019 10:40

Many diseases that used to inspire fear of death some 100 years ago have been practically eradicated from the face of the earth. This is thanks to the inquisitive minds of scientists who dreamed of making the world a better place. They invented vaccines and saved millions of lives, even though sometimes through trial and error.

How A Stubborn Doctor Saved The World From Tetanus In 1891 While Others Reaped The Fruitspanpilai paipa / Shutterstock.com

Tetanus is one of the diseases that don’t sound like a death sentence thanks to the possibility of getting vaccinated. However, few people are aware of how dangerous it actually is. This is an acute bacterial infection that affects the nervous system and causes muscle spasms. The disease is widespread throughout the world and it still claims lives. The only way to be safe from it is through immunization, because the body doesn’t produce antibodies even after recovery.

How A Stubborn Doctor Saved The World From Tetanus In 1891 While Others Reaped The FruitsBillion Photos /Shutterstock.com

In ancient times, this disease already existed on the territory of modern India, China, Greece, and Egypt. The clinical picture was first described by Hippocrates. But from a scientific point of view, the study of the disease started only in the 19th century.

How A Stubborn Doctor Saved The World From Tetanus In 1891 While Others Reaped The Fruitsfunnyangel / Shutterstock

The ideal environment for the development of the tetanus bacterium is the tissue that lacks oxygen from the outside. So, the most dangerous are deep, stabbed or birth wounds, as well as damage to the skin and mucous membranes that are capable of fast regeneration.

How A Stubborn Doctor Saved The World From Tetanus In 1891 While Others Reaped The Fruitsviviamo / Shutterstock.com

The causative agent of the disease was discovered by the German scientist Arthur Nicolaier and the Russian surgeon Nestor Monastyrsky in 1884. Three years later, Japanese microbiologist Shibasaburo Kitasato, managed to obtain a pure culture of this microorganism.

In those days, the ruling elite of Japan was very skeptical of the facts in general. Each of the numerous influential clans had their own “savants”, who often didn’t see eye to eye. Kitasato found support in the face of military doctor and microbiologist Emil Behring, whom he met while studying in Germany.

Together, they discovered that tetanus bacteria multiplied around oxygen-absorbing bacteria. This is how they came up with an idea to isolate pure toxin, which “poisoned” the body of an infected person. Kitasato became world famous for creating the first anti-tetanus serum, and he also participated in the development of vaccines against diphtheria and anthrax. Later, in 1891, he received many proposals from leading German universities to continue his work, but the scientist returned to his homeland.

With the support of patrons, he founded a private research institute and already in 1894 discovered the causative agent of bubonic plague. But his research was not meant to go any further: the health sector of Japan was still ridiculously archaic. Kitasato became an ordinary administrator, and Behring got a Nobel Prize in Medicine for developing a diphtheria vaccine. Although the Japanese microbiologist’s contribution was immense, his name wasn’t even mentioned.

How A Stubborn Doctor Saved The World From Tetanus In 1891 While Others Reaped The Fruitssiam.pukkato / Shutterstock.com

At home, Kitasato continued to try to change the system before World War I. The Japanese army needed the vaccine, and only the scientist and his closest colleagues could make it. The government had to make concessions and allow Kitasato’s corporation and his new private institute named after himself to develop. Shibasaburo Kitasato went through bureaucratic hell, didn’t receive the recognition he deserved, but remained unbroken and devoted to science.