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Maurice Hilleman isolated mumps virus from his daughter, Jeryl Lynn, during her illness.

Hilleman’s five-year-old daughter, feeling ill, woke him in the night. He believed that she probably had mumps, because she had the typical swollen glands and fever of the disease. Worrying about her health, but sensing an opportunity, he quickly drove to his Merck office to pick up cotton swabs and a vial of broth. Back at home, he swabbed Jeryl Lynn’s throat and placed the swab in the broth. He drove back to work to freeze the solution and then returned to his daughter.

Hilleman needed to attenuate, or weaken, the virus before he could use it to develop a vaccine. To do this, he passed the virus from the broth through chicken eggs several times, and then did the same in chick cells. The virus became better and better at destroying chick cells. Hilleman expected that as the mumps virus became more damaging to chick cells, it would become worse at causing disease in humans. He needed to test his assumption.

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