I recall from my history of science that one of Louis Pasteur's assistants accidentally injected rabies virus into his own thigh. I was able to find only two links about this event:

  1. A book called Who Goes First?: The Story of Self-experimentation in Medicine where it states (page 112):

    Jacques Grancher, the physician who gave the first injections of the vaccine to Meister, accidentally stuck his thigh with a syringe containing live rabies virus.

    Pasteur then immediately gave him rabies vaccine according to this book.

  2. A book called Scary Medical Stories, that didn't give the name of the assistant but gave a similar story:

    The needle jabbed into the assistant's leg. Pasteur's vaccine was based on the commonly held theory that resistance to a virus is built up by exposing the body to stronger and stronger doses of that virus. Therefore, the assistant had just injected a rather strong dose of rabies virus deep into his leg. The terrified assistant immediately asked to receive the full treatment.

I find it odd that other historical sites fail to mention what I consider to be a rather important event. Especially if it resulted in several patients being treated at once - not just Joseph Meister.

I don't mean to detract from Pasteur's contribution, but from what I recall, there was considerable debate as to whether young Meister was even eligible for the vaccination. Unlike what is commonly thought, it was not a sure thing he was even infected as the bites had failed to pierce his skin:

My question is: Did Jacques Grancher, MD accidentally infect himself with rabies?

  • This 1960 book says Joseph Meister killed himself in 1940 to prevent Nazis from forcing him to open Pasteur's crypt. books.google.com/… but nothing about Grancher injecting himself.
    – DavePhD
    Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 18:28
  • alas that is another myth: It is often reported that Meister shot himself but Wollman stated: “He committed suicide with gas.” Some sources note that Meister committed suicide because he could not bear the idea of the Nazis profaning Pasteur's tomb Wollman makes no mention of any such incident. Instead, he indicates that Meister was “very depressed” and that “his wife and children had left”. Like millions of others, they had fled Paris ahead of the onrushing German army. nature.com/news/history-great-myths-die-hard-1.13839 Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 18:41
  • According to wikipedia, Meister sent his family away (presumably to escape the Nazi) and believing that resulted in their deaths, he committed suicide. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Meister
    – ventsyv
    Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 18:44
  • @RichardStanzak the controversy with Meister's treatment was due to the fact that Pasteur was not a licensed doctor and the vaccine itself was experimental, only tested in dogs.
    – ventsyv
    Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 18:47

2 Answers 2


After exhaustive searching and the help of others here I now admit my instructor was correct.

I found a detailed account of the events and the accident with Grancher. His accidental self-injection of rabies did not occur during the 1885 Meister case. It was in 1886 and there is a very detailed account the the biography, Louis Pasteur:

One day in 1886, while Grancher was carrying out an inoculation on a patient stricken by rabies, he accidentally pricked himself in the thigh with some of the rabid spinal cord. Pasteur, who was standing behind him, saw the mishap and therefore ordered his assistance to undergo the curative treatment. Grancher agreed without flinching [...]"


Microbe Hunters, Then and Now confirms the story and gives a source:

Later, after the successful treatment of Joseph Meister, Pasteur again wanted to take the vaccine following a laboratory accident in which his colleague Grancher accidentally inoculated himself with a syringe containing live virus. According to an account by Adrien Loir, nephew of Madame Pasteur, he was dissuaded from doing so by Loir, Grancher, and Eugene Viala, who, however, vaccinated themselves (Valery-Radot 1971).

Other sources cite directly to Adrien Loir himself, specifically his A l'ombre de Pasteur: souvenirs personnels

A 1915 English translation of "The Life of Pasteur" says that Grancher wrote a letter stating:

"The medical men who have been chosen by M. Pasteur to assist him in his work have not hesitated to practise the antirabic inoculation on themselves, as a safeguard against an accidental inoculation of the virus which they are constantly handling."

  • as a former scientist I have found few legends hold up very long under scrutiny: cassiopaea.org/forum/index.php?topic=5069.0 I often marvel how few assistants or technicians are ever mentioned in official biographies, Great scientists may be great but they are still human Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 18:47
  • it is bothering me a lot that all the reports of Dr Granger infecting himself come from books. Where are the official reports from valid science history sites? Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 19:22
  • 1
    @Richard Stanzak: Why should there be an official report? What exactly would 'official' imply in this context? Indeed, why would an account on a web site be considered more accurate than one in a book, and what criteria would a site have to meet to be a "valid science history site"?
    – jamesqf
    Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 19:34
  • @RichardStanzak If you aren't going to believe Pasteur's nephew Adrien Loir, why would you believe a "site"?
    – DavePhD
    Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 19:36
  • science historians would work for me. I wouldn't be asking this question except there are inconsistencies with the reports. I am writing an article referencing this event and it is my scientific nature to verify information with appropriate citations. Anyone can claim anything in a book, peer review can of course also be bogus BMJ wrote a eulogy about him with no mention of this event books.google.com/… Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 19:55

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