Ravages of the Yellow Fever

Yellow Fever news

“We stated in our last that the deaths in New Orleans on Saturday & Sunday last were reported to be over 600. The reports of the Board
Sunday, 21st [August 1853] inst, 269

Monday, 22d ” , 283

Total for the two days, 562 of which 469 are reported yellow fever.

“In the list of deaths published in the Picayune we find the following. Of yellow fever, Johsephine (sic) Wolf 2d inst., aged 67 years Salamon Wolf, her husband, 5th inst, aged 68 years; Hannah Wolf daughter, 9th inst, aged 22 years; Sarah Wolf, daughter, 11th inst; aged 24 years; Moritz Wolf, grand child 13th inst; aged 7 years.”


This account of yellow fever — also called Yellow Jack — was one of many reports of the fearful disease in the September 6, 1853, issue of the Jacksonville [Benton County, Alabama] Republican.

It was not likely that there would be many cases of yellow fever in the northeast county of Alabama. It was too far away from the major waterways and the coast, where incoming ships would bring the fever. But the reports warned people to stay away from areas where yellow fever had broken out and told the good Samaritans where there help was needed. These were brave souls who, having had the fever and recovered, trusted that they had immunity and went to the devastated areas to help.

Such help was vital because entire households would come down with the disease, leaving no one to care for the desperately ill, and doctors sometimes became too exhausted to help, even if they didn’t succumb to the disease themselves. When yellow fever devastated Norfolk, Virginia, in 1855, doctors and nurses from Europe who had had the disease came to care for the ill. The entire city was prostrated, and without their help the suffering and loss of life would have greatly increased.

 

Yellow Fever Deaths

Residents of the cities and towns that usually fell victim to yellow fever fled to the country by the first of August and stayed until the end of November — at least, those who could afford to sojourn elsewhere.

After the war, former Confederate General John Bell Hood entered the insurance business in New Orleans, where the fever usually hit hard. He regularly took his wife and many children away during yellow fever season, but the disease was so devastating in 1878 that he lost his business and could not afford to remove his family from the city the next year.

Yellow fever first took the life of his oldest child and then his wife. He died August 30, 1879, just days after their deaths. He left ten orphaned children. It was not unusual for the fever to take parents, leaving helpless children.

A pastor found children too small to say their names alone in houses full of their dead relatives during the Norfolk epidemic of 1855. The New Orleans epidemic in 1853 left 165 children orphans at the beginning of September, and the yellow fever season would not end for another two months.

 

Yellow Fever Orphans

The cause of yellow fever was not known until Cuban physician Carlos Finlay discovered the yellow fever vector and identified the mosquito that carried the disease in 1882. Dr. Finlay recommended mosquito control as a means to control the disease. While U.S. Major Walter Reed, M.D., was with the U.S. Army Yellow Fever Commission in Cuba, his team confirmed the transmission by mosquitoes. Reed, who usually is given credit for ending yellow fever, cited Dr. Finlay’s work as the basis for that of his team.

Yellow fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic disease transmitted by infected mosquitoes.

The disease was called Yellow Jack because ships ran up a yellow flag, or jack, to indicate they were quarantined because of the fever.


Sources

George D. Armstrong. A History of the Ravages of the Yellow Fever in Norfolk, Virginia, A.D. 1855. The Summer of the Pestilence. Second Edition. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1856.

Images
J.F. Grant, ed. Jacksonville Republican, Vol. 17, No. 36. 6 September 1853. p,1-2.

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