Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Fatal Fever

Fatal Fever

YA nonfiction
My youngest child, Adam, is about to start college in
September. His life at this point is full of hope and promise. I
can't imagine how I would feel if I was to be advised to come right
away because he was critically ill. A number of parents of Cornell
students were in this predicament in 1903. Cornell and surrounding
Ithaca, New York were in the grip of a typhoid epidemic. Death In
Ithaca is a chapter in Gail Jarrow's Fatal Fever: Tracking Down
Typhoid Mary.
In America when antibiotics were still decades away from
discovery and water sources and human waste disposal left a lot to be
desired infectious diseases were big time killers. "Typhoid was among
the top five fatal infectious diseases in the United States, along
with influenza, pneumonia, tuberculosis, and diptheria. In 1900, it
struck nearly 400,000 Americans, and more than 3500 of them died."
Understandably people were frightened. Tracking down sources of
outbreaks was quite the challenge, particularly since victims could be
asymptomatic for as long as three weeks. Cleansing water sources of
fecal contaminents was a truly formidable task. Untreated sewage ran
into rivers and outhouses were located next to wells.
Then the already terrifying picture became even more ominous
with the discovery of carriers, people who harbored typhoid in their
bodies and cast them out
in their stools without showing symptoms. One strong candidate was an
Irish immigrant who worked as a cook. A number of members of families
she had worked for had contracting the disease when she had been in
their employ.
Fatal Fever combines a fast paced detective story with
fascinating scientific information and ethical issues that are as
current as they were a century ago;
1) Health authorities isolated Mary for much of her life to protect
people from a source of contamination. "When a deadly, highly
contagious, and untreatable disease strikes, what do we expect health
officials to do? What government actions would--or should--we
tolerate? Does the protection of a city's population trump the rights
and freedom of an individual?"
2) Although few Americans die of typhoid these days, the sitaution is
much more dire in other parts of the world. Remember fecal
contamination of food and water is the primary route of
transmission. "As many as 2.5 billion people worldwide live without
basic sanitation, with a billion of them defecating on open ground?
Nearly 800 million have no access to clean water." With our technology
and relative wealth, do we not have a duty to help bring those numbers
On a personal note, reading the book I became intrigued by what I
learned about Dr. S. Josephine Baker. The fact that she became a
doctor when she did is of interest in itself. But her interests in
public health and treating and improving life for the poorest of the
poor, coupled with her dislike of unsuitable political appointees,
make her someone I'd like to know a lot more about.
A great big shout out goes out to all who choose public health over
other potentially more lucrative callings.
Julia Emily Hathaway

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