Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/228

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

of Health during 1883 and 1884. Although none of these were fatal, the illness was in some instances alarming, and the evil effects were confined to twelve different cheeses. Samples of these were sent to Prof. Vaughan for analysis. The cheese exhibited no unusual taste or odor, but a dog, with keener instinct than the human, selected a piece of untainted cheese in preference. The detection of the poison proved to be a difficult task. The ptomaine was volatile and unstable, and a method had to be invented for its isolation. An alcoholic extract of the cheese fixed the poison in a fatty acid. An aqueous extract was made and evaporated, when the poison also disappeared. Two years of patient study perfected the process, and Prof. Vaughan succeeded in separating the ptomaine in crystalline shape. During the same year he obtained tyrotoxicon from milk kept in stoppered bottles in the laboratory.

In 1886 there occurred some cases of mysterious poisoning at Long Branch. Twenty-four persons became suddenly ill at one hotel, nineteen at another, and in the following week thirty more complained of similar symptoms. The investigations conducted by the chemists, Newton and Wallace, established the fact that tyrotoxicon was the cause of the sickness. The conditions in which the poison was generated are given in the report as follows: "The noon's milking—which alone was followed by illness—was placed while hot in the cans, and then, without any attempt at cooling, carted eight miles during the warmest part of the day in a very hot month"! Milk-poisoning in Iowa and Michigan was subsequently traced to the formation of tyrotoxicon; and, in India,[1] an English surgeon. Firth, discovered the same ptomaine in milk that occasioned sickness.

It might be supposed that so favorable a nidus as custard would not be overlooked by the mischievous bacillus. After Vaughan's method of isolating the ptomaine was made known, many analyses of poisonous ice-cream and cream-puffs testified to its industry. Wherever this toxic agent was identified, the circumstances attending its growth were carefully studied, and the care of the milk, cream, or custard was found to be faulty. In some instances cleanliness had been strictly observed, but other conditions inducing fermentation had been overlooked. In the milk-poisoning at Long Branch proper airing and cooling of the milk were neglected. In Milan, Mich., three fatal cases occurred in the tidy home of a farmer's family. Examination showed that the buttery where the milk was kept had a new floor laid over decaying boards, and some of the dirt accumulations between these, taken to the laboratory, generated tyrotoxicon in fresh milk. In Lawton, Mich., the custards prepared for freezing stood for some hours in

  1. "Indian Medical Journal," Calcutta, 1887, vol. vi, p. 1.