A teenage girl in the Netherlands recently developed cowpox, the viral cousin of smallpox, after trying to save a drowning kitten. Within a week of her contact with the kitten, the girl had developed a large necrotic ulcer on her wrist. Cowpox being as rare as it is, by the time doctors correctly diagnosed her, the infection had begun to clear up on its own (it’s naturally self-limiting). Cowpox is famous for being used by Edward Jenner in the first effective vaccine, against the now eradicated smallpox virus. As the above image shows, there was significant resistance on the part of the local population to intentionally infecting themselves with the harmless cowpox virus. To prove the vaccine’s safety and efficacy, in 1796 Jenner rather dubiously inoculated an eight year old boy with the cowpox virus before infecting him with smallpox. When the boy was shown to be immune to the deadly virus, the concept of vaccination was born.
As for the teenager in the Netherlands, while we’re sure having a giant black ulcer containing dead tissue open up on your wrist is pretty scary, at least she’s protected from smallpox!
Read the full story and look at the very big picture of her ulcer here.
(image courtesy of the Library of Congress)