Proteus vulgaris
Valerie Soledad

The Microbe that Saved Villagers from the Nazis

During World War II, millions of people were forced into labor camps run by the Nazis. Two Polish physicians discovered a microbe that saved their village from this fate.

Dr. Eugeniuz Lazowski and Dr. Stanislav Matulewicz learned about a microbe, Proteus vulgaris OX19, a soil microbe. Proteus is a Gram negative, rod-shaped bacterium. It is classified as enteric bacteria, and is a facultative anaerobe. Proteus OX19 has the same o-polysaccharides as the pathogenic bacteria Rickettsia prowazekii. These o-polysaccharides are thought to be the antigens responsible for antibody production in humans. There, infection by Proteus OX19, a non-pathogenic bacteria, causes the same immune response as infection by Rickettsia, a highly pathogenic and contagious bacteria that causes typhus.

The physicians had the residents of Rozavadow, Poland inoculated with Proteus OX19. Blood samples from the inoculated individuals then became positive for antibodies indicating typhus infection. As more and more tests came up positive for typhus, German officials became convinced that there was a typhoid epidemic in the town. They were particularly fearful of typhus because the disease had not occurred in Germany for over 25 years, and so their naïve population would have been very susceptible.

A team of German doctors sent to investigate the "typhus epidemic" was shown a man dying of pneumonia as proof of the effects of typhus. As typhus carriers, the townspeople were not conscripted into forced labor, and the Nazis avoided that area of Poland. So the little bacterium, Proteus vulgaris OX19 saved possibly hundreds of lives, and is further proof that "Microbes Rule!"

Rickettsia prowazekii

Proteus vulgaris


Salyers A, Whitt D (2001). Microbiology: Diversity, Disease, and the Environment. Betheseda, MD: Fitzgerald Science Press, Inc.

Amano KI, Williams JC, Dasch GA. Structural properties of lipopolysaccharides from Rickettsia typhi and Rickettsia prowazekii and their chemical similarity to the lipopolysaccharide from Proteus vulgaris OX 19 used in the Weil-Felix test. Infect Immun 1998 Mar;66(3):923-6

*Disclaimer - This report was written by a student participaring in a microbiology course at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. The accuracy of the contents of this report is not guaranteed and it is recommended that you seek additional sources of information to verify the contents.


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