I read a book called The Ghost Map, which is about the discovery of the source of the cholera outbreak in London in 1854. It talks about the unique set of circumstances that gave John Snow a point a view that led him to the Broad street pump as the source of the outbreak. One thing that helped him was his experience with chloroform and ether, which had recently come into use in medicine. From experimentation on himself as well as his collection of lab animals, he was able to create a standard by which the gases were used. He was so renowned for his work in anesthetic gases, he was asked to administer chloroform to Queen Victoria during childbirth.
I watched a documentary just now called “The Forgotten Plague.” It’s about TB in America. Once public health officials caught on to its contagious nature, they launched a massive campaign to educate people on the importance minimizing transmission. According to the documentary, men were even moved to trim or shave their beards lest they bring TB home in their facial hair.
U.S. Smallpox Epidemic of 1901-1903
There were a series of outbreaks in New York, Philadelphia, Boston and in Ohio and New Jersey. It was introduced into New York in 1900 and by 1901, there were over 900 reported cases in Manhattan while Brooklyn had over 1,500 with over 200 deaths.
By 1902, the city opened five vaccination centers and vaccinated tens of thousands a day. Over a six month period, over 800,000 people had been vaccinated which greatly helped control the spread.
In the three years of the epidemic, there were 21,000 cases of smallpox and over 3,500 deaths.
from Encyclopedia of Plague and Pestilence: from Ancient Times to the Present.
Though Scarlet fever has been around for millennia, there seems have been a more deadly presentation of the disease in the 19th century. Epidemics popped up around Europe with dramatically increased fatality rates with children being the primary victims.
Scarlet fever, which is caused by a streptococcus bacteria, usually presents with a high fever, sore throat, characteristic rash and a really weird-looking tongue. For those who survived their bout of scarlet fever like Beth in Little Women, Thomas Edison, and possibly Helen Keller, complications could be severe and long-lasting. They include damage to complete loss of hearing, Rheumatic fever and Glomerulonephritis (Bright disease). Rheumatic fever can lead to damage to the heart which ostensibly is what permanently debilitated poor Beth.
There’s no vaccine but it is now treatable with antibiotics. We don’t typically think of diseases like this as troublesome now on account of the availability of treatment, though strangely, the UK seems to be experiencing a spike in cases.
other source: CDC