"The Great Fever"
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?