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Two thorns used for smallpox inoculation, Palestine, 1921

Shaheen, a third generation medicine man, used peeled thorns as lancets to inoculate patients against smallpox. The thorn was used to spread the pus from a case of smallpox between the web of the thumb and forefinger on the right hand of the patient. Three small punctures were made to introduce smallpox into the body. The hand was then smelt by the patient as medicine men believed the vapours would doubly inoculate the patient. This method of inoculation was tested by medical officers who claimed Shaheen had a fifty per cent success rate. The framed thorns were presented by the Senior Medical Officer of the region where Shaheen practised in Dawaimeh, Palestine.

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Glossary: thorn

A modified plant organ, especially a stem, that is stiffened and terminates in a sharp point. Has been used historically for medicinal purposes such as variolation or vaccination

Glossary: medicine man

No description.

Glossary: smallpox

Smallpox is a infectious virus unique to humans. In the skin, this results in a characteristic rash, and fluid-filled blisters. During the 20th century, it is estimated that smallpox was responsible for 300–500 million deaths. After successful vaccination campaigns throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the World Health Organisation certified the eradication of smallpox in 1979. To this day, smallpox is the only human infectious disease to have been completely eradicated.

Glossary: inoculation

Introduction of material (usually a vaccine) into the body with the aim of producing or boosting immunity to a specific disease.