100 Fixing the Calendar 1582

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13  A Shot in the Arm 1796 
THE ERADICATION OF one of the worst plagues ever can be traced to a cow. Smallpox caused scarring and blindness and at its peak in the 18th century killed 60 million Europeans, most of them children. Variolation, a 2,000-year-old practice of inoculating patients using strains of a disease, was often so bizarre--and deadly--as to be worse than the disease itself. In China doctors crumpled smallpox scabs and blew them up the nostrils of otherwise healthy patients, leaving them vulnerable to the risk of other infections. 

Enter Edward Jenner, a general practitioner from rural England. Trusting in the popular belief that cowpox built one's immunity to smallpox, Jenner extracted cowpox-infected lymph from pustules on a Gloucestershire milkmaid on May 14, 1796, and inserted a small amount into an 8-year-old boy. Seven weeks later, Jenner injected the boy with smallpox. His immune system held its ground; the science of immunology had become a possibility. Vaccinations for hepatitis, diphtheria, polio and measles revolutionized public health--and created one of the first battle wounds of childhood, a word derived from the Latin vaccinus, meaning "of the cow," a nod to an anonymous English animal to whose stature Mrs. O'Leary's can only aspire. 

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