Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 59.djvu/567

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
557
THE LATE EPIDEMIC OF SMALLPOX.

THE LATE EPIDEMIC OF SMALLPOX IN THE UNITED STATES.
By Dr. JAMES NEVINS HYDE,

RUSH MEDICAL COLLEGE.

THE adaptability of man to his environment is one of many generous provisions for his welfare. But it is a provision with conditions. The adaptation once secure, even a temporary failure of complete adjustment to the environment may be perilous.

The commercial travelers of all countries are accounted, on the whole, as of a healthy class; they breathe all airs, they drink all waters, they consume all foods with impunity. They are rarely adjusted to a single environment for any length of time. The farmer, on the other hand, long habituated to his narrow circle of surroundings, would often become seriously ill if for a time he should leave his farm and village to breathe the air and drink the water and consume the food that are familiars of the traveling salesman who would sell a lightning-rod for the protection of the farmhouse.

This adaptability extends to a surprising degree. toward the limit of endurance of toxic agencies. The farmer whose case has been supposed may year after year drink with impunity the water from a well contaminated with germs that would promptly induce typhoid fever in one wholly unaccustomed to a daily dosage of the poison. But the same farmer may lose his immunity if for any length of time he removes to another residence and afterward, returning to his own place, makes use of the contaminated water to which he was once habituated.

The greatest peril from loss of adaptation to environment lies in the changes wrought by the sudden removal of a man from his country home, or even from a less salubrious city residence, to a situation where men are massed together in considerable number. Here a new and complex problem is presented. If every man of those thus suddenly congregated had recently surrendered his adaptation to a special environment, the chances of thus begetting disease are enormously multiplied. Such a condition is presented in prisons, hospitals, great fairs (such as those at Nijni-Novgorod, Chicago and Paris), and especially in the camps of soldiers. The camp as a focus of disease is more potent than all others; for one reason, among others, that even though previously subjected to selection by physical examination, and supposedly under the direction of sanitarians, the recruits are not free to select for