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JAMA 100 Years Ago
February 2, 2011


JAMA. 2011;305(5):514. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.1917

A better understanding of the sources and methods of transmission of infectious diseases has resulted in many changes in matters of personal and public hygiene. Mediate and immediate personal contact is found to account for many of such infections, and this has resulted in such measures as the abolishment of the public drinking-cup and of the use of slates by school children, greater care in the disposal of the sputum of the tuberculous, and the sterilization of bacillus-carriers. The transmission of such infections as diphtheria, syphilis and tuberculosis, have in some cases undoubtedly been due to methods used in certain industrial occupations, such as the use of blowpipes by jewelers and glassblowers, and perhaps the sticking of the wrappers of cigars by the saliva in the cigar industry. Among these “relics of a more careless age” is a custom in the cotton factories necessitated by the old-fashioned weave-room shuttles, grimly called the “kiss of death.” This shuttle, which requires the sucking of the thread through a hole by the operative, has doubtless been responsible for the carrying of tuberculosis and other infections throughout all the generations in which it has been used, and is, indeed, a veritable “kiss of death.” A shuttle has been devised which does away with this lip contact, and a bill has been introduced into the Massachusetts legislature to compel mill-owners to abandon the use of the old shuttle. Popular knowledge of infectious and contagious diseases and the way they are carried should be all that is necessary to abolish at once all such contrivances. Unfortunately, it is sometimes easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a “practical” man to recognize facts, the corollary to which, if acted on, might possibly shave profits more or less; and this bias is illustrated by the fact that there is no market in the United States for certain life-saving devices which are manufactured here. These devices are sold only abroad—where the law compels their use. It is a sad commentary on our civilization and appreciation of what is humane that any legislation should be needed to compel the employers of labor to eradicate from the industries all forms of the “kiss of death.”