Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 14.djvu/155

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By F. L. OSWALD, M. D.

THE prediction of the New Orleans Medical Journal, that the vital and material losses of the Southern States by the last epidemic would exceed the costs of our Mexican War[1] has been fully verified, but by its very magnitude the calamity may prove a less unqualified evil if it should help to open our eyes to the true nature and the origin of what has too long been considered a mysterious and unavoidable plague.

The hope of solving the riddle of the periodicity and topographical predilections of the fever-fiend suggested a careful comparison of the pathological statistics of our Spanish-American neighbors with those of our Southern lowlands; and these studies have revealed some curious facts, which the correspondents of our medical periodicals have corroborated rather than explained.

It appears that a disease which our ablest physicians have described as intensified malaria, has by no means confined itself to the malarious, i. e., swampy regions of the Atlantic slope, but in a great majority of cases may be traced to a city, or a well-drained but thickly-populated district, where the dietetic and domestic habits of the Caucasian race predominate over those of the American aborigines. Among many of the Indian tribes that inhabit the marshy lowlands and humid coast-forests of our continent, fevers are, on the other hand, wholly unknown; while Europeans who visit such regions, or natives who adopt European modes of life, become liable to a variety of enteric disorders.

Vera Cruz, la Ciudad de los Muertos, "the City of the Dead," as the Mexicans call it, on account of the frequency of its yellow-fever epidemics, is situated on a barren and extremely dry coast, remote from all swamps, and surrounded by arid sand-hills; while the natives of the peninsula of Yucatan, with its swamps and inundated virgin forests, are considered to be the healthiest and hardiest portion of the Mexican population. La Guayra, Caracas, and Santiago de Cuba, in spite of their mountainous environs, complain of the terrible regularity of their autumnal epidemics; but in the valley of the Amazon fevers were unknown before the arrival of the European colonists, and are still monopolized by the Creoles and negroes of the larger settlements. The forest tribes of the Madeira, says Bonpland, cautioned the mis-

  1. The territorial acquisitions of the United States in 1848 were achieved at a cost of 15,350 human lives, and a direct and indirect expense of $123,000,000—a sum which was more than repaid by the California revenues of the next ten years. Total deaths by yellow fever from August 5 to October 5, 1878, 17,012. Direct and indirect losses (without any prospective compensation) of the city of New Orleans alone, $16,000,000—about one-tenth of the loss total to the Mississippi Valley from Memphis to the Delta.