Monday, November 21, 2016

How a Doctor Could Spread Diphtheria Through Country School, 1919

From the November, 1919, issue of The Health Bulletin, published by the North Carolina State Board of Health

Early in September a nurse doing school inspection work for the State Board of Health in a small town wrote the county physician of that county the following letter:

“There have been several reported cases of diphtheria here, and certainly there appears to be a good deal of sore throats going the rounds. Dr. T……. on his own initiative, so I am told, visited the school here to examine the throats of some first-grade children, being zealous for the good health and protection of said children. He used his pencil as a tongue depressor, going from one child to another with the same instrument (a lead pencil) and wiping it off on the sleeve of each respective victim. He examined a number of children in this manner. The teacher suggested they would soon get some tongue depressors. But he went again the next day, I believe it was, and took some sticks he had prepared, using them over and over again on a number of children. Some clean depressors were then urged upon him, and even with these in plenty he persisted in using these on more than one child. He probably was bent on inoculating them with, at least, a proverbial peck of dirt. Can you do anything to stop such criminal practice on innocent children? This is the fine preface for my work, where I urge individual use of cups, spoons, and everything of the sort. I have this information first-hand.”

The country physician thus appealed to, and, by the way, one of the best and most efficient in the State, immediately wrote us to this effect:

“I see nothing that I can do in this matter, any more than swear to myself and refer this letter to you for your consideration. Any publicity from me on this in the way of going after such personal ignorance or carelessness would, as I see it, be worthless, but I think that your office should promptly and properly bring to task men who would practice such ungodly methods.”

The only comment we can make on such procedure by a man holding license to practice medicine in North Carolina is that better men have been hanged for less grave offenses. The only fit place for such a man to be turned loose is in the penitentiary or a hospital for the criminal insane. As publicity is a cure for a good many evils, in future it will be the policy of the State Board of Health, when authentic evidence of such practice is presented, to publish the whole affair, giving names and places.

It is interesting to note that the same physician stirred up his town some six months ago by stating to the parents of a child who was paralyzed as a result of diphtheria, that the paralysis “was caused by the antitoxin” and that the child “did not have diphtheria.” As a matter of face, which the most prejudiced physician must admit, diphtheria antitoxin can no more cause paralysis than could the same amount of cold water. The simple fact is that either through ignorance, or prejudice, or carelessness a diagnosis had not been made until the consulting physician called in at the eleventh hour insisted on using antitoxin. The paralysis following proved beyond a doubt that the child had diphtheria and that the antitoxin was simply used too late to be effective. Osler once stated that as a fact there are more cases of paralysis noted since the use of antitoxin became general than before, for the reason that the patients which now have antitoxin administered and are later paralyzed were the ones that previous to the use of antitoxin always died in the acute stages of this disease, never living long enough for the resulting paralysis, because of the severity of the attack.

O, Childhood, mortal man will probably never know the crimes committed in thy name!

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