Early studies in inoculation

I know I should probably get a life, but working in the archives of the Royal Society sounds like a dream job to me. Their latest weblog posting includes a fascinating 1729 translation of a description of the mysterious Arabic practice of smallpox inoculation:

If any one hath a mind to have his children inoculated, he arrives them to one that lies ill of the smallpox all the time when the pustules are come to full maturity. Then the surgeon makes an incision upon the back of his hand between the thumb & forefinger, and puts a little of the matter, squeezed out of one of the largest & fullest pustules into the wound. This done, the child's hand is wrapt around with a handkerchief to keep it from the Air, and he is left to his liberty till the fever arising confines him to his Bed, which commonly happens at the end of three or four days. After that, by God's permission, a few pustules of the smallpox break out upon the child.

The translation also includes a statistical comparison of the risk of death through inoculation versus the risk of death having contracted smallpox. This is not an entirely valid risk comparison, as it does not take into account the likelihood of contracting smallpox in the first place, but it is an interesting indication of the advanced Arabic approach to scientific investigation at the time.

More posts like these please!

Writer and photographer Richard Carter, FCD is the founder of the Friends of Charles Darwin. He lives in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.WebsiteFacebookTwitterNewsletterBooks
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