chicken heads save switzerland

How Chicken Heads Saved Switzerland From Rabid Foxes

By Anupum Pant

It’s believed that rabies first arrived on the mainland of Europe in the year 1947. As years passed, the disease steadily started spreading westwards at a rough rate of about 50 km per year. From Poland, towards the west, it started moving into Austria, Germany and Parts of Italy by the year 1970. Now it was Switzerland’s turn to see the deadly disease attack their place. The decided to do something to prevent that from happening. Of course it wasn’t easy. There were problems…

Sad, they had to deal with a couple of problems first.

First, to prevent rabies from reaching the upper reaches of Rhode valley, scientists knew that vaccines composed of artificial or dead viruses would just not work. Doctors at the university of Berne tried testing a weakened live virus vaccines in field tests. These field trials were indeed successful. Still, they knew it could be extremely dangerous if the live virus vaccines started propagating the disease instead of stopping it. So there was a widespread ban on using live virus vaccines.

There was a second problem too. The chief carriers of rabies virus were foxes and to spread the vaccine among them was a pain because if the vaccine went into their stomach, the juices there would make it completely ineffective. To deal with that problem they knew they had to administer a live virus through the lining of the fox’s mouth. It didn’t seem like a possible idea.

And then there was a talk to keep the virus alive inside an egg till the fox finds it. Alas, foxes didn’t like eggs that much. They preferred storing the eggs somewhere, which killed the live virus, making it ineffective.

Alexander Wandeler, the chief organiser of the vaccine trials had a better idea for the future.

To the relief of Swiss vets, the ban on using live and weakened viruses in vaccines was lifted in the year 1983 (I suppose).  Now they knew exactly what to do to prevent rabies from spreading into their country. Alexander’s idea was to hide the vaccine and the egg yolk inside a chicken head (something which the foxes like a lot). So the chicken heads became makeshift syringes to administer the rabies vaccine to foxes. And it worked.

Now if that was too long to read, I’ve decided to include a shorter 10-second version at the end of relatively bigger stories. Tell me if it works for you in the comments section. It’s important to me that you do. Thanks.

Chicken heads laced with weakened virus, which foxes ate to immunize themselves, saved Switzerland. As a result Rabies was virtually eradicated from the country.

via [New Scientist – Jan 13, 1983]

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