Monday, January 16, 2012

Max Joseph von Pettenkofer

I love the Internet. Not just for its vast array of information but for the fact it provides me with this information in the comfort of my own home at any hour of the day.

I has been meaning to look up some more information on Max Joseph von Pettenkofer - that most famous of cholera drinkers. In particular I was curious if any of his students had died from their cholera drinking activities. It took only a few clicks to find this biographical sketch of von Pettenkofer published in the Journal of Nutrition in 1977.

In 1892, when almost 74 years of age, Pettenkofer performed on himself what he called his experimentum cruets. He swallowed 1cc of a cholera culture prepared from the "rice-water" stools of a dying man. No symptoms resulted except a "light diarrhea with an enormous proliferation of the bacilli in the stools".

Pettenkofer's students repeated the experiment on themselves. In two cases, the reaction was severe, but no one died. Pettenkofer considered the results a vindication of his views, but most epidemiologists were not swayed by these results.

So none of the students died but I was amazed to discover that Pettenkofer had carried out this experiment at the age of 74. I need to change the picture I use of him.

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