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Chapter 19 : Three Giants of Infectious Disease Research: Pasteur, Koch, and Jenner
Louis Pasteur's researches focused, among other things, on infectious diseases, at first on diseases of silkworms. It is ironic that Pasteur's misinterpretation of certain observations led him temporarily astray as to whether or not one of the apparently infectious diseases of silkworms was in fact caused by a microbe. In any event, this research was Pasteur's introduction to later study of infectious disease in more highly evolved domestic animals and humans. Robert Koch, 21 years younger than Pasteur, was combative as was Pasteur, and in some ways excelled Pasteur as an experimenter, at least in bacteriology. Koch isolated the bacterium Bacillus anthracis from diseased animals in pure culture and showed by the most rigorous criteria that this organism was the causative agent of anthrax. Koch later isolated the bacteria that cause tuberculosis (1882) and cholera (1883). The last phase of Pasteur's meteoric career was concerned primarily with prophylaxis against infectious disease, in particular by vaccination procedures. This was not a new concept; inoculation to induce immunity to smallpox had been practiced for centuries. The inoculation procedure worked well most of the time, but there were occasional failures. The method was totally empirical, and sometimes the child would actually become ill with smallpox. This happened to the young Edward Jenner (1749–1823) during a severe epidemic in England. He recovered and was thereafter immune to the disease, which became a definite advantage in his later work.