The Life and Death of Joseph Meister

By | August 23, 2018

test article image

Most people don’t recognize the name Joseph Meister, but it is partially thanks to him that we have the rabies vaccination today. As a child, Meister was the first person to be inoculated with the still-experimental rabies vaccine that was under development by Louis Pasteur and Emile Roux. Meister was spared from certain death by the efforts of these French scientists, yet he could not escape – or so he thought – the certain death accompanying the invading Nazi armies. Here is his story.

test article image

Rabies was a Death Sentence

In the past, a person who contracted rabies, usually by being bitten by an infected animal, faced a terrible death. The symptoms would start vague and include flu-like symptoms, such as a headache, fever, and vomiting. These early symptoms could last for several days and most people assumed they were just dealing with the flu. But then the symptoms progressed into anxiety, agitation and confusion. Hydrophobia, a fear of water, is a classic symptom of rabies infection. Many patients refused to drink water because of hydrophobia and because rabies made it difficult to swallow. As the disease progressed, patients would experience insomnia, hallucinations, and paralysis. Many victims died of dehydration before they reached this point, which signaled that death was imminent.