Letter to the Editor

Typhoid fever

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Dear Editor,

Typhoid fever was widespread in Lebanon, New Hampshire, in 1812-13. Now 200 years later, vaccination prevents us from getting this disease.

Two people, both with the common last name of Smith, became key players in this potentially fatal situation.

Typhoid bacillus bacteria lingers in the body. It travels in the bloodstream, causing ulcers and pockets of infection. Joseph Smith, age 7, future president of the Mormon Church, was gravely ill with typhoid fever.

An abscess formed in his shoulder that had to be lanced. Infection from it traveled to his left leg. Doctors Perkins, Stone and Smith examined Joseph. They discovered that a bone in his leg was diseased from the typhoid bacillus. The boy's body had formed a new bone growth around the diseased area.

Both Perkins and Stone said that the leg had to be amputated. Dr. Nathan Smith, a young physician from Hanover, New Hampshire, disagreed with them. Medically, he was ahead of his time. He decided to extract the infected section of bone from the cavity of new bone.

In those days, there was not anesthetic. Alcohol was given to ease pain. Joseph refused to drink it. His father held him. Nine pieces of bone were removed. Another 14 pieces worked up to the surface.

Joseph recovered completely. Soon, he was able to run, walk and jump like other children. Dr. Nathan Smith founded Dartmouth Medical College. After World War I, his methods were adopted as standard medical procedure.

In regard to typhoid: contaminated water from human waste causes the disease. In 1812-13, outhouses were in use. Drainage from them was spreading waste materials into wells and springs. Some people can become carriers of the disease. Antibiotics shorten the length of the disease in modern times.

Helen Ruth Arnold,

Trenton, Nebraska

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: