Pestilence, Potions, and Persistence Early Florida Medicine

Epidemic Disease and the Establishment of the Board of Health
Yellow Fever, Hookworm, and Clean Cities

Yellow Fever

Yellow fever is a viral disease that is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected mosquitoes. Severe infection can lead to liver failure. The resulting yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice) gives yellow fever its name.

In "As To Yellow Fever," which originally appeared as an article in the Florida-Times Union, prominent Florida physician Dr. John P. Wall responded to criticism he received after advising Tampa residents to flee an outbreak.

He believed, as he said most learned people did, that the disease was closely related to filthy living conditions and that the atmosphere of the cities suffering from outbreaks became infected with the disease.

Wall’s opinion exhibited a prevailing misunderstanding of yellow fever transmission, as well as the eagerness of physicians and policy makers to connect poor city sanitation and household hygiene to the spread of the most deadly diseases.

"As To Yellow Fever"

Author: Author: Wall, John P. (John Perry), b. 1867
Series: S 915

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As to Yellow Fever - excerpt

Left Column

Since the appearance of the yellow fever in Tampa, I have noticed much in the Times- Union, more or less reflecting upon me, for having advised the people of Tampa to get away from the place and thus escape the fever. The authors of these criticisms have shown themselves such ignoramuses – and among them are some of your editorial staff that I would hardly deign to notice them but for the hope that it may prove of some benefit in the future.

Right Column

soil clean and pure, become too obvious to the ordinary mind to require any arguments to demonstrate. The Technical Commission of the Inter- national Conference of Rome (1885) says: “The measures recommended against cholera are, in general, applicable to yellow fever and to other diseases which prevail in epidemic under the influence of bad sanitary conditions, and which are transmitted by human intercourse. The most…

No Statewide Health Agency in 1888

Years of severe yellow fever outbreaks instilled the public and political will to create statewide agencies to coordinate quarantine and disinfection efforts to protect the state's citizens and visitors.

Physicians and officials in Florida became among the most renowned experts on yellow fever (though prevailing theories changed constantly).

“Get back into the car; you can’t stop here!”

In this illustration from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper about yellow fever, refugees during the 1888 outbreak are confronted by an armed cordon while trying to leave the train.

The caption from the New York publication refers to the Florida yellow fever “scourge,” and the 1888 outbreak did indeed draw national attention to not only the threat of disease and need for better health policy, but also to the lack of state health boards in many southern states (the assumed source of the spreading yellow fever).

Illustrating the fear of other Floridians, as well as the confusion that reigned throughout the nation about the nature of the transmission of the disease, the leader of the armed men tells the refugees, “Get back into the car; you can’t stop here!”   

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