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Bela Schick developed a test to determine if a person had developed some immunity to diphtheria after having been exposed to those bacteria.

Schick based his test on developments in the understanding of disease and immunity. He reasoned that the injection of a very small amount of diphtheria toxin under the skin would produce a reddening and slight swelling of the site. This is a positive reaction, and indicated that the patient had not previously been exposed to diphtheria. A negative reaction, based on a lack of reddening of the area, indicated that the patient had previously been exposed to diphtheria and therefore had immunity to it. A negative reaction eliminated the need for treatment for diphtheria if a household contact or schoolmate developed the disease.

After Schick left his native Europe and came to New York in 1923, he instituted wide use of his test throughout the city. At that point, immunization was available for those who had not been exposed to diphtheria.

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Diseases & Vaccines