Article ID: CBB194783319

An Epidemic for Sale: Observation, Modification, and Commercial Circulation of the Danysz Virus, 1890–1910 (2021)


This essay tells the story of the “Danysz virus,” a bacterial culture that was designed and deployed to cause epidemics among rodents and was sold globally by the Institut Pasteur from 1900. Jean Danysz (1860–1928) initially identified the culture during his studies of epidemics in population cycles of common voles. His experiments turned to the ambitious goal of increasing the bacteria’s virulence by emulating the rodent’s animal economy in the laboratory in order to mass-produce a culture. The bacterial culture was supposed to bring about a man-made epidemic for sale on the global pest- and plague-control market. The essay considers the Danysz virus as a “cognitive good” and analyzes the material as well as intellectual transfers that shaped its development, supported its international application, and prompted the experimental testing of its promises. While the culture largely failed to bring about the exponential growth of lethal infections in rat populations Danysz promised, the virus did succeed in distributing his theoretical revision of virulence. Through its commercial distribution, his product recast virulence as a function of the relation between bacteria and their milieu and offered a novel concept of mutual pathogenicity that far exceeded deterministic models of infection prevalent at the time.

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Authors & Contributors
Kolata, Gina Bari
Briese, Olaf
Bonah, Christian
Simon, Jonathan
Worboys, Michael
Condrau, Flurin
História, Ciências, Saúde---Manguinhos
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Science in Context
Social History of Medicine
Medical History
Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Ohio University Press
MIT Press
Disease and diseases
Infectious diseases
Public health
Finlay, Carlos Juan
Mayhew, Henry
Andrade, Nuno Ferreira de
Latta, Thomas Aitchison
Time Periods
19th century
20th century, early
20th century
Early modern
18th century
Great Britain
United States
Valencia (Spain)
Institut Pasteur, Paris

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