Contagious Diseases


NOBODY thinks nowadays that he is ever going to get smallpox. And this is justified, because in most cases if he does, it is a reflection on his intelligence.

But smallpox is still around, and we see a few cases of it every year. It is distinctly a disease of winter. Somebody gets it and begins to feel an aching in his bones, crowds in with some other people around a stove, or huddles with some old bums near a doorway where there is some heat. And the result is, inevitably, three or four cases.

In an unvaccinated community this would cause an epidemic. Every once in a while in a community where vaccination has been neglected such an epidemic occurs with disastrous results.

For instance, what occurred not so very long ago in one large city is typical of what might happen in any community which has not paid attention to vaccination. For many years, that city had been free of smallpox. This had created a feeling of security which had lulled people into a forgetfulness of the value of vaccination. A large part of the population at that time was opposed to vaccination.

Into this serene and apparently secure community a Pullman car conductor got off the train at the end of his run from Chicago. There had been a sporadic epidemic of smallpox in Chicago. The Pullman conductor came down with the disease and was treated at the municipal hospital. Two months later an attendant in the hospital died of smallpox. Then, with a negligence almost criminal, the authorities of the hospital dismissed all patients presenting no symptoms of the contagion, who could go home. “The disease,” according to report, “spread like fire in dry grass, and within nine months there died in the city of smallpox 3,164 persons.”

The lesson is perfectly plain. No one need fear smallpox now because it is preventable by vaccination, and vaccination should certainly be carried out on all persons at the age of at least two years. It should be repeated about every five to seven years—five or six times during the life of the individual.

Smallpox is one of the most contagious of all diseases, and it is virtually certain that anyone exposed, who has never had the disease or never been vaccinated, will take down with it.

In my own city a few years ago we had an epidemic of so-called black smallpox. The name comes from the fact that hemorrhages occur under the skin in the pocks. This is a fatal form. The news of this epidemic frightened the population, and for several weeks the doctors in our city did virtually nothing else except vaccinate people who had never been vaccinated previously. I was surprised to find how many people, 20, 30 and 40 years old had gone along without any vaccination whatever. It still must be true in most communities.