Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) in 1886.

Roux is going to transform the Dispensary of the Vaccination Service into a veritable hospital of which the principle would be “to do everything to cut the chain of bacterial transmission”.  The rooms are individual, the personnel enters by an interior corridor and leaves by the balcony, the floor is easy to wash with plenty of water, the walls have rounded angles and are covered with an enamelled surface, the furniture is metallic, the nurses work with naked arms so as not to transmit germs from one patient to another with their sleeves…  A reporter from the newspaper Illustration testifies, in the number of 28 June 1890:

“Therefore let us enter in turn the Pasteur Institute […] and let us begin our visit by the important laboratories of ‘Microbie technique’, where, under the direction of Doctor Roux, series of pupils, most of them after their medical studies, receive in five or six weeks a supplement of instruction which is now indispensable for all Medical Doctors.  […]  In this so clean and so light workshop of the modern scholar, one would seek in vain the damp and dingy retreat, the smoky laboratory of the alchemist of the Middle Ages, with its powdery test-tubes and its stuffed crocodiles.  It is in full light and in all possible conditions of salubrity that one pursues today the discovery of the truth…”


In this institution devoted to research which is the Pasteur Institute, not only does one seek, but one finds.  After having worked on tetanos, Roux, assisted by Martin and Chailloux, develops a serum against diphtheria, whose efficacity is tested over several months on children stricken by this terrible illness, in Hopital Trousseau and in Hopital des Enfants-Malades.  He relies on the clinical diagnostic without waiting for the bacteriological diagnostic, and injects the children with the serum from the blood of horses on which he has studied the effects of immunisation, observing the great resistance of these animals to high doses of this illness’ toxins.

The German Behring, who would obtain the Nobel Prize in 1901, would enunciate with Kitasato the principle of the method in this year of 1890:  the serum of the blood of an animal, which is refractory or vaccinated with the help of weak doses of diphtheric or tetanic toxin, is injected into the receiving subject, and procures it immunity against this illness.  The serum of the vaccinated animal then possesses antitoxic properties.  The production of antidiphtheric serum then becomes a source of revenue for the Institute, permitting the financement of the researches.  On the initiative of Le Figaro, a subscription is opened both in France and in other countries for the installation of the Garches Domain and the stables necessary for the production of serum in horses.

The Hopital Pasteur is born.  Within three months, fifty thousand doses of vaccine are distributed free-of-charge.  Doctor Roux will make a Communication on diphtheria in 1894 at the International Congress on Hygiene in Budapest.  This historical Communication, which revolutionizes the History of Medicine, would be received with incredible enthusiasm and would obtain the definitive adhesion of the medical milieu, which can no longer either ignore or refuse this, at last, sure weapon against an illness which is decimating children.  The Concours medical, a periodical, mobilises the profession, exhorts the Medical Practitioners to learn the microbian technique, in particular serodiagnostic, so as to close the gap which separates the Practitioners who have been practising for a long time, from these “young people armed with a knowledge that is different from ours”.  The medical field is at last open to Pasteurism:  created exclusively for treating diphtheria, the Hospital would rapidly take on other infectious diseases:  smallpox, measles and scarlet fever.

In Spring 1895, the former Normaliens celebrate their School’s centenary.  They go to place a commemorative plaque on the little laboratory of the Rue d’Ulm, or rather the garret where one can only enter on one’s knees, and in which Pasteur installed, thirty-seven years earlier, his steamer, and made the first culture bouillons.  Then they go to visit the Institute.  They are received by Roux who has spread out on the tables the instruments “religiously conserved as witnesses to his Master’s progression”, the balloons of the Sea of Ice which gave such a great blow to the murderous theory of spontaneous generation, the test-tubes which were used for the studies on vinification, culture media, as well as an impressive collection of microbes.  Around noon, Pasteur has himself transported into the laboratory.  Roux then takes a microscope and proudly shows him the plague baccillus, which with that of diphtheria, completes their trophies as killers of microbes.

Shortly afterwards, Pasteur leaves to reside in Villeneuve-l’Etang, where Alexandre Dumas would come to chat with him.  He will die, stricken by an attack of uremia, on 28 September 1895.  The funeral will be grandiose.  It is Raymond Poincare, then Minister of Instruction, who will receive the coffin in the name of the Government, and would make a speech “of the highest eloquence”.  On this day, black tails and top hats would be side-by-side with tradesmen’s smocks and the caps of the labourer.  It is the time of reconciliations.  Celine Pouchet would write to Madame Pasteur:

“Madame, permit the daughter of Felix-Archimede Pouchet, whose fights with the illustrious scholar were so resounding, to associate herself with your immense pain and with the mourning of the whole of France.”

The embalmed body of Louis Pasteur is descended into its crypt at the Institute which bears his name, on 27 November 1896.  The French Scientist had become a laic saint.


To be continued.