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Who Invented the Flu Vaccine?

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By Rachel Howell Stockton

The flu vaccine came about as a result of trial and error. The Spanish flu pandemic, which was aided in its rapacious, worldwide spread because of World War I, caused a flurry of experimentation on the part of scientists and health professionals.

There was panic in the medical community, and it's no small wonder. Over of the world's population was affected by the virus; small villages were annihilated in small corners of the world, and in some locations, mass graves were constructed with steam shovels, because there were no able bodied grave diggers to help bury the dead.

The panic raised by the tireless virus (which had an unusually long run of nearly two years) resulted in some crack pot treatment experiments. "Bleeding", which hadn't been recognized as a viable treatment option in the medical community for decades, was once more on the medical scene. IVs containing hydrogen peroxide were injected into patients, as was one doctor’s concoction of blister fluid, strychnine, caffeine and morphine. Desperate times ignited desperate measures, which weren't very effective (and in some cases, were actually deadly).

However, one method seemed to help assuage the illness somewhat, through blood transfusions. Doctors discovered that if the blood of a recovered victim was transferred into the body of patient still suffering, the patient was more likely to recover. This, in essence, was the first, albeit crude, form of influenza vaccination.

Even though due diligence was applied to the influenza mandate, the cause of the illness wasn't discovered until the 1930s in the United Kingdom. Until that point, scientists thought the illness came from "bad air", or other vague sources. Scientists began to isolate and grow the virus in Petri dishes filled with fertilized chicken eggs. Pinpointing the sickness to an actual virus was the first step in developing a viable, vaccination option.

It would take another decade for the United States military to come up with the first flu vaccine developed for large distribution, and World War II veterans were the first ones to try out the new prevention method. The flu vaccine was the result of many years of research: the blood, sweat and tireless experimentation of many experts. It was not the brainchild of just one researcher.

As is obvious, the flu has been an enigmatic source of consternation to scientists, physicians and researchers worldwide. Although other, more malevolent illnesses, such as polio and small pox, have been completely eradicated, researchers still work feverishly every single year to try and stay one step ahead of viral pandemonium. It's going to take this type of continued, concerted effort to help prevent, or at least circumvent in the early stages, another pandemic like that of 1918.

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