A brief follow-up to my recent post about obituary notices and in particular Sarah Waldock’s comment about the spread of rabies. Rabies is possibly one of the earliest ailments known to man, and it seems to have ebbed and flowed across the face of the Earth for thousands of years. In particular there are records showing how it spread across Europe in the Eighteenth Century. There was a major outbreak in England in 1734-5and a much more serious one in 1752 when orders were made for dogs to be shot on sight in the St James area of London.
1759 saw a vicious outbreak in London which lasted three years and resulted in all dogs being confined indoors for a while,on sufferance of being shot. A two shilling reward for killing each dog led to barbaric scenes in the street and this was echoed in many European cities including Madrid where, in 1763, 900 dogs were slaughtered in a single day.
The fear persisted and by 1774 rabies was prevalent throughout England and a reward of up to five shillings was available for each dog killed.
Various herbal remedies were put forward for curing a person of the bite of a mad dog including Scutellaria lateriflora, also known as Mad-dog Skullcap (a member of the mint family found in North America). In practice all human cases of rabies were fatal until a vaccine was developed in 1885 by Louis Pasteur and Émile Roux. Their original vaccine was harvested from infected rabbits, from which the virus in the nerve tissue was weakened by allowing it to dry for a week or so.
Rabies is a disease which still has the power to strike terror into the minds of the public – small wonder! I will end with a repeat of the cartoon Mad Dog used in my earlier post, and with a Jack Vettriano print of the same name (as in “…and Englishmen go out in the noon-day sun”) shown courtesy of the Portland Gallery: