With hope for the development of a Zika virus vaccine during Black History Month, here's a little-known fact to share: Inoculation was introduced to America by an African-born slave.
During the smallpox epidemic in 1721 in Boston, an enslaved person named Onesimus told his master about a centuries-old tradition of inoculation he had learned during his childhood in Africa. He explained that by extracting the material from an infected person and scratching it into the skin of an uninfected person, you could deliberately introduce smallpox to the healthy individual making them immune. Eventually, a physician experimented with the procedure by inoculating over 240 people. Records indicate that only 2% of patients requesting inoculation died compared to the 15% of people not inoculated who contracted smallpox. When the research was reported, Onesimus received credit for the idea. Later, his traditional African practice was used to inoculate American soldiers during the Revolutionary War and introduced the concept of inoculation to the United States.
"MedStar Washington Hospital Center is proud to be at the forefront of fighting infectious diseases and caring for patients affected by them. We are inspired by innovators of both the past and the present,” says Dr. Glenn Wortmann, chief of Infectious Diseases. “From smallpox or tuberculosis, to Ebola and the zika virus, the need to grow and share knowledge is never ending.”