How Proteus Saved Lives in World War II

I’m currently studying for an upcoming microbiology exam on bacteriology and wanted to quick comment on something that one of the doctors told us. During World War II, Nazis were very fearful of typhus (the epidemic from caused by Rickettsia prowazekii). They wanted people in the concentration camps to do manual labor for as long as possible before being killed. Bringing people with epidemic typhus into the camps would cause everyone to become too sick to work. So to prevent the spread of typhus into the concentration camps, Nazi “doctors” tested villages for typhus antibodies via a blood test. Fortunately, some Polish physicians determined that inoculating villagers with Proteus would cause a cross-reaction with the typhus agglutination test. It would appear as if a typhus epidemic was going on in that village and the Nazis subsequently left them alone.

It was a pretty brave thing for the Polish physicians to do. It’s unfortunate that this couldn’t have been used to save even more lives. Here’s an article, A Bacterium Saved a Town During World War II, that talks about the same thing.

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