Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 2, Number 3, September, 1992 Page: 132
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Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal
highest attack rate appears to have occurred in persons with the greatest exposure, i.e.,
those who were involved in attending to the ill. Among those were the clergy, nurses,
and physicians. Blacks had a lower attack rate and, when ill, milder disease. Today we
recognize this as herd immunity, a situation in which descendents of those peoples native
to an area to which a disease is endemic often have partial immunity. A similar example,
but in reverse, was the severity and high mortality of measles when introduced among
the American Indians.
The ending of any epidemic is dependent upon any of several factors. One is
a reduction in the number of individuals susceptible to the disease. Although this
occurred to some degree in Columbus due to migration from the area, death from the
disease, and the immunity acquired by persons who recovered from it, this factor does
not seem to have played an important role in the halting of the outbreak. More important
was the onset of winter. Historically, cold weather has been accorded credit for ending
yellow fever epidemics because the first frost kills the developing mosquito larvae and
thus breaks the epidemic's cycle by removing one of its components, the vector. This
was no doubt a factor in the termination of the disease. A contributing factor of possible
importance is that the cold weather decreased the chance of spread because it decreased
the exposure of the populace to mosquitoes, primarily by reducing outdoor activity.
Columbus, in pre-air-conditioning days, was miserably hot in the late summer and early
fall. Open windows, sleeping in open rooms, and evenings on open porches were the
rule. With cooler nights, windows were closed and activity shifted to the inside,
preventing the mosquito access to both infected and uninfected individuals. Other
factors associated with lower temperatures which might have contributed to ending the
epidemic include the increased wearing of heavy clothes and the increased burning of
wood for heating and cooking, the smoke being a known mosquito repellent.
In Columbus, a hard freeze occurred around New Year's Day. Subsequent to
that, no more cases of yellow fever were recorded. We now know that the virus has
no means of remaining latent, i. e., that, except where certain species of monkeys exist,
it has no other natural host than man, and thus will cease to exist when the reservoir
infected individual dies or recovers. This was no doubt the case in Columbus, as, though
both the mosquito vector and a susceptible population remained, there were no
subsequent outbreaks of the disease.
Although yellow fever continued to occur occasionally through the latter half of
the nineteenth century, and although the etiology was not proven until the work, usually
associated with the opening of the Panama Canal, of Walter Reed, William Gorgas, et.
al., the severity of its outbreaks decreased and it was essentially controlled in the United
States. The advent of window screens, the development of sanitary sewage systems,
and better quarantine of ships from endemic areas helped prevent subsequent epidemics
from spreading through American ports. Today, yellow fever remains endemic in Africa
and South America. Although an effective vaccine exists, control of the disease is largely
attained by public health measures which limit mosquito populations.
In 1876, Dr. Robert Henry Harrison published an account of the 1873 yellow
fever epidemic in Columbus in a book edited by Greensville Dowell entitled Yellow Fever
and Malarial Diseases Embracing a History of the Epidemics of Yellow Fever in Texas.
The book detailed case histories from epidemics throughout Texas in the hope that the
information could be used in determining the cause of yellow fever and in finding a cure
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Nesbitt Memorial Library. Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 2, Number 3, September, 1992, periodical, September 1992; Columbus, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth151386/m1/4/?q=nesbitt%20memorial%20library%20journal: accessed June 29, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Nesbitt Memorial Library.