When rabies stopped being a death sentence

Jul 6, 2016

Many of us are following the headlines about the Zika virus 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. Howard Markel is a University of Michigan medical historian and PBSNewshour contributor.