• U.S.

Medicine: Out, Damned Spots!

2 minute read

Two research teams, a continent apart, are hot on the trail of poles-apart methods of combatting measles. Traditionally one of the “inevitable” childhood fevers, measles is widely underrated as a health menace. For children under three and for adults, it is a threat to life itself; at any age it can cause brain inflammation, which now (since Salk vaccine) kills more victims than does polio and handicaps about as many by damaging the brain. The progress reports: ¶ Harvard’s Dr. John F. Enders (Nobel prizeman because his test-tube foundations made the Salk vaccine possible) and Dr. Samuel L. Katz have worked along orthodox lines, weakened the measles virus by growing it 70 times in tissue cultures of human kidney and amnion, and finally chick embryo cells. Despite this “attenuation,” it has retained its power to stimulate the system to produce antibodies against itself—just as does an attack of the natural disease, which confers lifelong immunity. Some children who got this vaccine developed a slight rash and low fever, but no severe illness, and within three weeks had full-scale antibody protection.

¶ The virus of distemper, which has saddened the heart of many a child by killing his pet pup, is the agent tested by Dr. John M. Adams of the University of California at Los Angeles. Nearly everybody has antibodies against distemper —surprising, because no human being is known to have caught distemper even from the sickest dog. Dr. Adams reasoned that perhaps the virus is close kin to one that causes human disease, contains the same antigen (antibody-stimulating component). He tried a safety-tested distemper vaccine against respiratory infections in a California institution, and it was a flop. But three years later the institution had a measles epidemic. Among inmates who had had distemper vaccination there was only one-third as much measles as among the others. And that was after a single inoculation. Dr. Adams is running bigger tests now, with three shots.

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