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JAMA 100 Years Ago
August 17, 2005


JAMA. 2005;294(7):855. doi:10.1001/jama.294.7.855-a

Medical men long have wondered at the inconsistencies of the popular dread of epidemics. People and newspapers became hysterical a few years ago over a score or two cases of Asiatic cholera on the seaboard, while around their offices and homes thousands suffered and died from tuberculosis, syphilis, gonorrhea and typhoid. The small but new enemy seemed infinitely more terrible than the great but familiar ones. The newspapers of August 11 presented a dramatic example of the same peculiar mode of thought. New Orleans reported a total to that date of 756 cases of yellow fever, with a total of 129 deaths, nearly all the mortality being among the Italians. New York reported up to August 5, 1,496 cases of typhoid, with 395 deaths, many of them among Americans of the better class. Think of the fright, brutality and migration inspired by the smaller figures as compared with the virtual indifference that meets the greater ones! Yet we know that, apart from popular apathy, it is easier wholly to prevent typhoid in the North than yellow fever in the South. Uncontaminated water and food insure freedom from epidemic typhoid, while the prevention of yellow fever necessitates the destruction of myriads of insects as well as the absolute isolation from the mosquitoes of every case of the disease during the first three days of fever. Verily man is yet an illogical animal.