Throwback Thursday: Pandemics from the Past

Throwback Thursday

BROWNSVILLE – Upon the forming of Brownsville in 1848 there was a huge Yellow Fever plague. It claimed one third of all the inhabitants of the area. The old city cemetery was first established in 1858 as a result of the mass deaths due to the disease. An interesting note that was written in the medical history at Fort Brown stated there were so many people dying and there were levels of comatose patients that they were wondering if this person was dead or alive. What was done was, a string was tied around the little finger. Doctors and nurses came back in an hour and if the finger was swollen, the person was alive.

In Brownsville there was a prominent historical feature that entered the picture, Dr. William C. Gorgas. Dr. Gorgas started studying Yellow Fever at the end of the 19th century. The world was devastated by this disease due to the Spanish-American War. There were more troops that died from the illness than from warfare.

Dr. Gorgas did not discover Yellow Fever but it was brought to the focus of medical science by a Cuban physician, Dr. Carlos Finlay. He put things together in order to figure out that mosquitoes were probably the vector that caused this disease, but it was Dr. Gorgas and his initial work that was done at Fort Brown that solved that riddle.

There’s a common factor that enters the picture in the majority of these diseases is that they need a vector, meaning they are carried by a flea, rat, mosquito, or a bat. Those were the ones that were the carriers of these great epidemics. The people in the early days did not figure this out until far, far too late. They started taking measures in order to clean up their environment because once you have the civilization grouped together in masses, that’s when you have the prevalence of these diseases.

Early in the history of the treatment of these viruses and epidemics, it was understood that you had to quarantine. This is so prevalent of what we have going on in today’s world. Doctors recognized that you had to isolate various pockets of people that were infested with the disease and they did so, religiously.

The early writings of the colonization of Brownsville pointed out that there were fines and the military was involved. If you crossed the quarantine line, you definitely suffered. One of the major factors that actually changed the history of warfare was the Spanish Influenza outbreak of 1918. That war ended not because one side was victorious, it ended because there were so many deaths due to the plague. Many lessons were learned from this path of mankind over the years and many of which we put in motion in today’s world.

The isolation, the quarantines, the masking, and all of that carry on into an identifiable factor that we can see in today’s world. It is a great lament that south Texas and northern Mexico has had an affair with this death angel. It has changed the entire procedure as to how we colonize this part of the world. Many lives were lost and the efforts that were taken by the people that survived were built upon to keep us alive.

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