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JAMA 100 Years Ago
June 16, 1999


Author Affiliations

JenniferReiling, Editorial Assistant

JAMA. 1999;281(23):2256C. doi:10.1001/jama.281.23.2256

According to Mr. JULIAN RALPH, one of the worst dangers to civilization from the present plague epidemic is that almost every doctor who has had plague patients insists on carrying away plague germs for the purpose of study. . . . As this is published in a popular illustrated weekly of wide circulation, it is possible that it may at least cause some uneasiness in the public mind, which is just now in a very receptive state as regards hints and theories of sanitation and disease. The occurrence of a couple of deaths in a Vienna laboratory of research, from escape of plague germs, is also an object-lesson that seems to fortify Mr. RALPH'S position and to show that there exists a real danger of the extension of the disease . . . On the other hand, however, we know that the plague has not appeared in Europe as an epidemic since the most elementary knowledge of sanitation has existed, that it has been controlled in many parts of India under more or less unfavorable conditions, and that there is no instance on record of the extension of the disease from any medical investigation of its germs. . . . There is no doubt that the plague, if invited and its way prepared by the establishment of conditions that once existed, might be the devastating scourge that it formerly was, but the sanitarians of civilization are not doing that sort of thing. While eternal vigilance is the price of public health as well as of liberty, it does not appear that there will be any justification for any undue fears or panic on this account. If doctors or students are negligent or careless, it is safe to say that they will be their own only victims. Nothing short of malicious mischief is likely to introduce the pest otherwise than through the ordinary channels of neglected general precautions . . . etc., and the danger from this source in temperate Europe and America is not excessive.