Diphtheria Once Scourge Conquered By Doctors

If your child were entering school in September, 1890, the chances would have been about 1 to 10 that he or she would contract diphtheria before the year was over.

Once contracted in 1890 the chances would have been about even that the illness would have resulted in the child’s death. From 1888 to 1894 the death rate in the Boston City hospital was only once below 40 per cent, and in 1892 it rose to nearly 50 per cent.

This year, even if you take no precautions, the chances of your child catching diphtheria are less than one in two hundred.

And even if the disease is contracted, provided antitoxin is given on the first day, the chances are 400 to 1 that the child will recover. (The mortality reported by the health department of Chicago shows that patients injected with antitoxin on the first day have a mortality of 0.27 per cent—27/100 of 1 per cent.)

Has anything more wonderful than this ever happened in our modem civilization? What accomplishment of any other group of men equals this of the medical profession practically to wipe out an enemy of mankind–a malignant, deadly enemy which had taken its toll of human life since the dawn of time and down to less than fifty years ago was still as terrifying and powerful—nay, more terrifying and powerful than ever?

Nor was this any happenstance or accident merely the ebb and flow that certain diseases have through the years. We know that such things happen. For instance, in the case of influenza, we know that the disease mysteriously disappears and will not be heard of for ten, twenty or even forty years: and then suddenly and quite as mysteriously as it went it will come again and engulf the entire population of the world.

But diphtheria was never like that. We know of it as long ago as the Babylonian Talmud, during the first century in the writings of Areteus, and continuously ever since in every country it appeared every year.

No, the conquest of it was deliberate. And its beginning is sharply in the year 1895, when antitoxin was generally introduced into practice.

In a typical city, Milwaukee, the mortality in 1890–1894 was 116 per 100,000 population. In 1931 it was 2 per same number of people. And, to show how sharp the point of the beginning of the fall was, in 1895 the significant year, one year after the mortality was 116, it was less than half of that–51.

But there is much more to the triumph. Even the incidence of the disease is cut. We said “if you take no precautions” the chances of your child’s acquiring it are small. But you can and should take precautions.