In Andrea Barrett's "Ship Fever", we get a historical fiction approach to ships and disease in the mid-nineteenth century. We encounter such diseases as Dysentery, Dropsy, and Ship Fever; most likely being Yellow fever. Another disease mentioned in the novella is auge, which is most likely the same or similar to Dengue fever or Black fever. Let's briefly talk about each of these before moving on to their role in the story.
Dysentery is caused by the Shigella species of bacteria. This presents as a type of diarrhea in which the stools contain blood and mucous. In healthy young to middle aged adults, Dysentery is self-limiting, meaning that it will not usually kill it's host. It is very unpleasant, yet will not invade the bloodstream. Infants and the elderly often suffer worse effects, and fatality is much higher among these two groups. The major problems with infants is their poor hygiene habits. Dysentery is usually contracted by drinking contaminated water, fueled by unsanitary conditions. Food can be contaminated by either the water it is cooked in or flies that have come in contact with the bacteria.(Salyres, p.169) Common to many developing countries, it thrived on ships with poor sanitation, tight quarters, lack of personal hygiene, and stagnant air within the ship.
Dropsy is almost never referred to with the same name, making it difficult to pinpoint what disease was exactly being talked about. In most cases, dropsy was now what we call pulmonary edema. Severe respiratory difficulty and dry cough are two symptoms that are often seen. If the disease worsens, a very productive cough can be heard and seen. According to the Greek medical philosopher Hippocrates, a...
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...arantine those who were affected, not knowing for sure what caused the disease? ? ?
Bailhache, Preston H. 1894. "Précis of the U.S. Quarantine Regulations for Domestic Ports to Prevent Introduction of Yellow Fever" and White, J.H. "A Concise Explanation of the Maritime Quarantine Regulations of the Treasury Department Relating to Yellow Fever" in Yellow Fever: It's Nature, Diagnosis, Treatment, & Prophylaxis & Quarantine Regulations edited by Barbara Rosenkrantz Arno Press: New York 1977
Breslau, ? 1706. Practical Observations on Dropsy of the Chest American Philosophical Society: Philadelphia
Duffy, John 1996. Sword of Pestilence: The New Orleans Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1853 Louisiana State University Press: Baton Rouge
Salyers, Abigail A. and Dixie D. Whitt 1994. Bacterial Pathogenesis: A Molecular Approach ASM Press: Washington
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