Specific Diseases: Diptheria


Figure 1.-- this cabinet card portrait is undated, but looks like the 1890s to us. The boys look to be about 2-8 years old. The inscription on the back reads, "John W. McAndrew + 2 brothers who died of diphtheria." The way it is written we do not know if John died along with his brothers. John was the older boy. The studio was Coumb in Bath, New Tork.

Diphtheria is a potentially deadly bacterial infection which acts on the mucous membranes of the nose and throat. It is particularly serious as it is a contsgeous disdease. Diptheria commonly begins a sore throat leading to fever, swollen glands and general weakness. While these symptoms may be caused by other pathologies, the sure sign of diptheria is a sheet of thick, gray material which covers the back of the throat. This material can build up to the extent that it clogs the windpipe, making it difficult to breath properly. We do not know much about early history. Mechical diagnosis before the 19th centurty were imprecise. The disease was named by French doctor Pierre Bretonneau (1850s). Abraham Lincoln's older brother, Eddie Lincoln, is believed to have died ffom dipthetria, which apparengtly unhinged their mother. A noted French mathamatician, Heri Poincaré contracted digheria. For several decades there was no effective medical treatment. Once it was identified medically we see many examples being reported or identified later by historians. The first example was a Bonaparte prince (1807). One of the most famous incidents is that is Queen Victoria's daughter Princess Alice and her family becoming infected with it, resulting causing two deaths, Princess Marie of Hesse and by Rhine and Princess Alice herself (1878). It was a deadly disease and even in a search of the HBC data base we find considerable evidence that it was both widespread and deadly. A close boyhood frirnd of Franklin Roosevelt, Archie Rogers, died of diptheria (189os). Frankline was away from home at the gime. A popular presidntial child was Ruth Cleveland She died after the Cleveland's left the White House at 12 years of age. Because photography was developed at about the same time diptheria was identigied, we see family members noting deaths on the back of portraits. Thus we know the McAndrew boys died ffrom diptheria, we think in the 1890s (figure 1). As late as the 1920s, there were an estimated 0.1-0.2 million cases of diphtheria reported annually just in the United states, resulting in about 15,000 deaths. We note an English boy, Wallace Brereton contracting the diswase in the 920s. Children represented a great majority of the cases, apperently because thry did not have a fully developed immune response capbility. A noted outbreak occurred in Nome, Alaska. The abnti-toxin was finally delivered by dog sled which is now celebrtd by Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. One of the first effective treatments for diphtheria was developed by U.S. physician Joseph O'Dwyer (1880s). Diphtheria is no longer a major threat in developed coutries because of the widespread vaccination effort.







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Created: 4:42 AM 6/25/2012
Last updated: 4:42 AM 6/25/2012