Yellow Jack 1885


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The recent arrival of the vessel John Gibson, at the Erie Basin, with a crew infected with yellow fever on board, has caused no little uneasiness in this city. The question has been repeatedly asked. How came the authorities at quarantine to allow the vessel to reach port without being first thoroughly examined. It was this question that a reporter of the Eagle put to Health Commissioner Raymond this morning.

"I do not think," said he, "the Quarantine authorities are at all to blame. The vessel stepped first at the Delaware Breakwater, where the United States Marine Hospital Service is established, and which is considered the finest service of its kind in the world. There the vessel was given a clean bill of health, and the authorities at quarantine allowed her to pass."

"Do you think there is any danger of yellow fever spreading from the Erie Basin, where the vessel lay?"

"Not the least. It would have been otherwise, however, if any one had gone on board the vessel, as then he would be liable to contract the disease, as did a young man on Classon Avenue some years ago, but even then it is a question whether the disease would spread. It did not in the case of the young man I refer to. I gave this whole subject more careful consideration in 1878, when I attended the meetings of the American Public Health Association at Richmond, Va., on the 19th, 20th, 21st and 22nd of November of that year. I was especially interested in ascertaining the views of those experienced in yellow fever as to the contagiousness of the disease. I put this question to them: "If a patient with yellow fever is brought North, without baggage, is stripped and thoroughly washed and in that condition taken into New York or Brooklyn, can he spread the disease? Can he reproduce in his body the poison and infect others?" While most answered 'No,' some of the most competent relied 'Yes; and from him you may have an epidemic.' Dr. Mitchell, of Memphis, told me of a case where a man, living in the woods, came to a train of cars, took a newspaper from a passenger and returned to his home. A few days after he developed yellow fever and it spread to his family. Whatever else this epidemic has settled it has not in my opinion established on an unalterable foundation these two important principles, namely, that yellow fever is never of local origin, and that it is never communicated from the person.

"What are the peculiarities of yellow fever vessels?"

"Dr. Gibon, Medical Inspector of the United States Navy, expressed the following views, which he said were held by every naval surgeon in the service so far as he knew: 1) The yellow fever ship is always a foul ship. 2) A clean ship will not get yellow fever in yellow fever ports. 3) Yellow fever can be enclosed and shut in by battering down the ship's hatches and feeding and keeping the crew at all times on deck. 4) Yellow fever may be carried from an infected ship to one to ice ward. 5) The infected ship must be exposed to extreme cold before she is safe. 6) The poison of yellow fever is a living germ. Dr. Turner, of the navy, mentioned the Susquehanna, as having had yellow fever on board, and as being in New York Harbor out of commission for three Winters. One month after she was put in commission the disease again appeared on board, notwithstanding the fact that she had not again been in a yellow fever port. The starting point of the yellow fever epidemic in New Orleans, in 1878, was supposed to be from the time a purser on the Ship Emily B. passed quarantine there and the disease afterward spread throughout New Orleans, but a great number of physicians held to the opinion that yellow fever was communicable from the person. It must also be remembered that the sanitary condition of the Southern cities is not as good as here. When I went South I found in almost every instance when yellow fever prevailed there were leading vaults whose contents soaked into the soil and found their way into the well water used for drinking. Open ditches with sluggish streams formed the only sewers into which drained the surface and slop water, while decayed wooden pavements saturated with all kinds of filth stretched for miles through the heart of a city whose people were dying the hundreds."

"Then you do not think there is any danger of yellow fever visiting this city this year?"

"I do not."


Website: The History
Article Name: Yellow Jack 1885
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


The Brooklyn Eagle August 22 1885
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