Historical background

The phenomenon of acquired immunity was observed as early as 430 bc when the historian Thu-cydides in his description of the plague of Athens wrote: 'Yet it was with those who had recovered from the disease that the sick and the dying found most compassion. These knew what it was from experience, and had now no fear for themselves; for the same man was never attacked twice - never, at least, fatally.' Thus even the early Greeks understood that individuals who had been exposed to a disease were provided protection from later susceptibility.

In the eighteenth century, the practice of active immunizations by inoculation with diseased material from smallpox victims (or later the inoculation of related or attenuated virus discovered by Jenner) was the impetus for modern studies of the acquired immune response. Today the acquired immune response is still being investigated on both the cellular and the molecular level.

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