Five cultures of Bacillus welchii have been studied and compared Four came from infected wounds in the western theatre of war, and one was obtained from a personal article of clothing. Each culture possesses the essential characteristics ascribed to that group of bacteria.
The infectious processes caused by the five cultures in rabbits, guinea pigs, and pigeons, are local in character; and very few or no bacilli enter or are found in the general blood stream during life or immediately after death.
Glucose broth cultures, injected intravenously, are fatal to rabbits. Death occurs, almost immediately or after a few hours. Agglutinative bacterial emboli have been ruled out as the cause of death, as has been an acid intoxication. The fluid part of the culture acts in the same manner as the full culture and irrespective of neutralization with sodium hydroxide.
The full cultures and supernatant fluid are hemolytic when injected directly into the circulation of rabbits and pigeons, and the acute death produced may be ascribed to a massive destruction of red corpuscles. The passage of the fluid portion of glucose broth cultures through Berkefeld filters reduces materially the hemolytic and poisonous effects.
Cultures of the Welch bacilli in plain broth to which sterile pigeon or rabbit muscle is added are highly toxic, and the toxicity is not noticeably diminished by Berkefeld filtration. The filtrates are hemolytic when injected intravenously and inflaming and necrotizing when injected subcutaneously and intramuscularly. The local lesions produced in the breast muscles of the pigeon closely resemble those caused by infection with the bacilli.
The toxicity of these filtrates is not affected by neutralization with sodium hydroxide, but is materially reduced by heating to 62°C. and entirely removed by heating to 70°C. for 30 minutes.
Successive injections of carefully graded doses of this toxic filtrate in pigeons and rabbits give rise to active immunity. The blood taken from the immunized rabbits is capable of neutralizing the toxic filtrate in vivo and in vitro. The filtrate has therefore been designated as toxin and the immune serum as antitoxin.
The antitoxin neutralizes the toxin in multiple proportions. Hence the latter would seem to possess the properties of an exotoxin. Moreover, it neutralizes the hemolytic as well as the locally .injurious toxic constituent.
Antitoxic serum prepared from a given culture of Bacillus welchii is neutralizing for the toxins yielded by the other four cultures of that microorganism.
The antitoxin is protective and curative against infection with the spore and the vegetative stages of Bacillus welchii in pigeons. The limits of the protective and curative action are now under investigation.