"The Great Fever"

American Experience

I usually write light-hearted, humorous stories about my life
and children but, damn, yellow fever--there's nothing funny about it.

Yellow fever was the worst kind of terrorist. It killed indiscriminately, viciously, unstoppably. It would kill children and adults, the rich and poor alike. Death came quickly and with excruciating pain. I'm talking vomiting blood, bleeding from your eyeballs kind of pain. Like terrorism, it created fear wherever it appeared. Panicked citizens didn't allow trains from infected areas to stop in their towns. People burned bridges and destroyed railway lines. Cities were abandoned.

Can you imagine living in a world of fear like that? Never knowing when it might strike and how many it would kill. Oh, wait. You probably do, don't you? You've just gotten... used to it.

Folks complain about how the world keeps "getting worse." In some ways it's true. Corrupt politicians, war, environmental crises, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, the internet. But it's getting better in some ways too. We have decent plumbing, fresh water, healthy food, vaccines, the internet. And no yellow fever. One less thing, anyway, and a major victory for public health. I'm certainly glad I didn't live in New Orleans in the 1800s when yellow fever epidemics were killing hundreds and sometimes thousands of people every Summer (they just can't catch a break can they?). Of course there were a lot of other reasons why you wouldn't want to live circa the late 1800s, especially if you didn't have money. Or you were female. (Have you seen Texas Ranch House or Manor House?)

It took over twenty years before anyone accepted the theory that mosquitoes could be the agent of transmission for a human disease. Why so long? No one could believe it despite the fact that no one really understood diseases. When an American army doctor and his team published evidence in support of the theory, the Washington Post called it "silly and nonsensical." The idea was too radical for its time.

There's an important lesson in there. In my short lifetime (I'm 34) I've seen a number of epidemics: the flu, HIV, SARS. Yellow fever may be a thing of the past (Well, sort of. Although there hasn't been an epidemic in the US for over 100 years, 30,000 people still die from yellow fever every year.) but who knows when the next yellow fever will strike? Importantly, will we be prepared to deal with it? Will we be open-minded enough to accept proven solutions even when they sound outlandish? Or are we doomed to suffer, unwilling to accept sound scientific evidence because it doesn't mesh with what we believe?


What? Yellow fever could be transmitted by mosquitoes? What a ridiculous idea. Just like thinking that embryonic stem-cell research might hold life-saving potential. Or that global warming is any more than a liberal myth. Or that Ignatz Semmelweis could be correct in his observation that an obstetrician's dirty hands might be causing puerperal fever. Or that Anton von Leeuwenhoek could actually see tiny creatures in a drop of pond water when he looked through his new gimcrack, the microscope. Or that Galileo, peering through a homemade cardboard tube, could say that the earth is not, after all, the center of the universe. Or that it might be possible to put a person to sleep so deeply that he would not feel the amputation of his leg. Pure silliness. How can right-thinking folks believe such stuff?

What an interesting program on Yellow Fever! I thought it was very well done. I did not know that Walter Reed (Army Dr.) had so much to do with solving the puzzle of Yellow Fever, along with his colleagues. There is something to be said for Public Health.

I also found the program by PBS this past month on Jamestown thought provoking, about possible poisoning, rather than mainly starvation as cause of many early deaths.

"Iíve seen a number of epidemics: the flu, HIV, SARS."
HIV is caused by making BAD choices and is NOT an epidemic as is flu, SARS or yellow fever.

could you give me more information about yellow fever please and could you send it to my email adree thankyou

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