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April 12, 2000

HistoryChildhood's Deadly Scourge: The Campaign to Control Diphtheria in New York City, 1880-1930

Author Affiliations

Harriet S.MeyerMD, Contributing EditorJonathan D.EldredgeMLS, PhD, Journal Review EditorRobertHoganMD, adviser for new media


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JAMA. 2000;283(14):1889-1890. doi:10.1001/jama.283.14.1889-JBK0412-5-1

During last two decades of the 19th century diphtheria was the leading cause of death of toddlers in the industrialized world, in some cities killing more than a thousand in a single year. In contrast, since 1980 fewer than 100 cases have been reported in the entire United States.

Although diphtheria is hardly the only infectious disease to have thus faded, its story is unique because the early period of its decline can be directly linked to advances in bacteriologic knowledge and practice. Between 1880 and 1930 health authorities in New York City were responsible for much of the practical innovation in the control of diphtheria, as well as a good share of the scientific progress.

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