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When rabies stopped being a death sentence

Painting of Louis Pasteur working in his lab, 1885
Albert Edelfelt
http://j.mp/1SPGCl0 / Public Domain
Painting of Louis Pasteur working in his lab, 1885

Our conversation with Dr. Howard Markel

Many of us are following the headlines about theZikavirus with mounting alarm.

Before that, it was Ebola. Think back to October 2014, when a New Jersey nurse was quarantined after returning home from caring for Ebola patients in West Africa.

She later sued the state, by the way.

That same month, a Liberian man named Thomas Duncan left his home to visit Dallas, Texas. He left Liberia healthy. Two weeks later he was dead of Ebola, the first person diagnosed with the deadly disease in the U.S.

In 1885 people were equally terrified of rabies.

"Rabies is horrible," medical historian Dr. Howard Markel told us today on Stateside. "When you are infected, you are sure to die, but before you die, you go quite mad and drool, just sopping with saliva. So it's quite a disgusting and marked death, and very certain."

It was awful, and there was nothing doctors could do. 

But all of that changed in July 1885, thanks to the famous French scientist Louis Pasteur.

Listen to Markel tell us more about rabies and how Pasteur tackled the disease in our conversation above.


Dr. HowardMarkel is a University of Michigan medical historian and PBSNewshour contributor.

Copyright 2021 Michigan Radio. To see more, visit Michigan Radio.

Ryan is interning as a Production Assistant for Stateside. An Ypsilanti native, Ryan received a Music Production/Engineering certificate from Washtenaw Community College and is currently studying at Eastern Michigan University, pursuing degrees in Electronic Media and Film as well as Electrical Engineering Technology. For as long as he can remember, Ryan has loved public radio. Ryan is a big fan of podcasts, movies, longboarding, playing the drums, video games and spicy foods.