The Prevention of Rhesus Haemolytic Disease

  • John Jewkes
  • David Sawers
  • Richard Stillerman


The first recorded description of haemolytic disease of the newborn was in 1609 but until the discovery of the human blood groups during this century, and in particular the description of the group known as the Rhesus (Rh.) factor in 1939, no treatment was possible. The American physician and research scientist, Dr. P. Levine, discovered and described the hitherto unknown antibody (later named the Rhesus factor by Drs. Wiener and Landsteiner, then at Wisconsin University) when he established that the disease occurs when a Rh. negative mother produces a Rh. positive baby, who inherits this blood type from its father. Since the baby’s cells usually, although not always, invade the mother at delivery the first baby is not normally affected; such foreign foetal cells entering her circulation may cause her to react, as the body does to any foreign material, by producing antibodies to destroy them. The presence of these antibodies becomes a permanent factor in the mother’s blood stream and, as the level of antibodies may rise after each birth, subsequent Rh. positive children’s cells are attacked with increasing severity. Although about eight per cent of all pregnancies may give rise to antibodies, only about I in 180 babies in western countries are affected because the child may not be Rh. positive, may be a first child, or may be protected by one or other of several factors. In the Inilder form of the disease anaeinia and jaundice develop; increasing severity leads to stillbirth, to infant death or to brain damage of the surviving children.


Gamma Globulin Penicillanic Acid Human Blood Group Haemolytic Disease Negative Mother 
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Copyright information

© John Jewkes, David Sawers and Richard Stillerman 1969

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Jewkes
  • David Sawers
  • Richard Stillerman

There are no affiliations available

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