Wednesday, June 4, 2014
I found an interesting little article in the Kansas City Daily Journal from April 21, 1890.
Rock Island, Ill., Aril 20,--Augustina college, in this city, has been closed on account of an epidemic of typoid fever among the students. About forty of the students have been on the sick list. Twenty of them are not regarded as dangerous, but sixteen cases have developed a malignant form of the disease. Two of the students have died and two others are in a critical state. Sewer gas has been pronounced the cause of the epidemic, as those students who did not eat or sleep in the afflicted building have not been troubled.
Interestingly enough, in 1880, Karl Joseph Eberth, a German pathologist and bacteriologist, described a bacillus that he suspected was the cause of typhoid. In 1884 pathologist Georg Theodor August Gaffky, also from Germany, confirmed Eberth's findings. This article about the college outbreak was published in 1890.
Opposition between medical professionals who held old beliefs and those who were on the cutting edge of new discoveries was rampant in the medical world during these years. Many doctors refused to accept the fact that bacteria, and later on, viruses, even existed. This newspaper article is a good example of how slow this kind of information was to spread across the world and to be accepted.
The cause of the typhoid outbreak that affected these unfortunate students obviously wasn’t sewer gas, although that theory was a popularly held one at the time. The typhoid was spread by eating or drinking beverages that were handled by someone who was shedding Salmonella Typhi, the bacillus that causes the disease. That explains why the disease was limited to the one building. Close quarters like those these students probably lived and ate in would be the perfect breeding ground for typhoid. .