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BriarRose Kildare

Plagues, Viruses and Diseases

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Plagues, Viruses and Diseases

Epidemics throughout History

I have a great interest in the many of the different plagues, viruses and disease that affected the course of history. My specialty in subject is the Bubonic Plague also known as the Black Death. However, I am researching the other diseases and viruses that have affected both men and women through out history as well as during the GAOP. I am hoping that this thread will generate some interests and possible discussions on the subject. And if any one has any questions I would be more than happy to research an answer if I do not already know it

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History of disease and medicine is a pet topic of mine.

However, I've never tried to combine it with my interest in the GAoP, so the below is informed speculation:

For the 17th and 18th century sailors, I suppose venereal disease -- syphilis in particular -- are foremost in my mind. Then there's the smallpox (measles, too) that came to the Americas on ships well before the GAoP, but was still merrily decimating native populations.

Yellow fever is another "good " one, as a mosquito-borne port disease the sailors might have encountered. Malaria, too.

Tuberculosis, typhoid and typhus, the latter two being diseases of poor hygiene...

I'm sure that the crowded conditions on a ship made the spread of lice and fleas inevitable, carrying with them typhus, etc. With so many rats on ships, rat bites and droppings in food were likely not uncommon. Personal hygiene was lacking, as was antiseptic practice in medicine, and that could not have helped matters, especially not when it came to dysentery ("flux" in contemporary documents) or typhus.

Wounds were terribly prone to infection.

Scurvy was important of course, but not contagious and therefore not that interesting to me.

Wasn't Blackbeard seeking medicine for his diseased crew? Can anyone confirm this -- or what the disease was? Aside from that story, I can't think of any pirate-specific disease-related anecdotes. There must have been syphilitic pirate captains doing crazy stuff somewhere, right? I know, not necessarily.

Mad Rose (not syphilitic)

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I'm sure that the crowded conditions on a ship made the spread of lice and fleas inevitable, carrying with them typhus, etc.

Ah, the Jail Fever. Remained a problem 'til well after the GAoP. Outbreaks often occured in the navy after bringing new crew aboard, so may well have happened for yer pirates two, under similar conditions [new crew]. The "close quarters" were an excellent environment for any disease spread by fleas or lice or bodily fluids. That much we have for certain, from the writings of assorted Ship's Surgeons ['though they most often did not realize that was what they were describing; we've a better theory today as to how the Jail Fever and the Malaria are spread...].

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I am typing in material from W.R. Thrower's book Life at Sea in the Age of Sail and this quote is just too priceless not to share. It's going in my book wholesale. I just wish I knew where Thrower got it from. All he says, it that it's " from the journal of a surgeon in a merchantman" in the early 17th century. (Where can I get it, W.R.? I hate your poor documentation skills, sir!)

‘In the month of June, almost two-thirds of the white people were taken ill. Their sickness could well be characterized by any denomination commonly applied to fevers: it however approached nearest to what is called a nervous fever, as the pulse was always low and the brain and nerves seemed principally affected. It had also a tendency to frequent remissions. It began sometimes with a vomiting, but oftener with a delirium. Its attack was commonly in the night; and the patients, being then delirious, were apt to run into the open air, I observed them frequently recover their senses for a short time by means of the heavy rain which fell upon their naked bodies. But the delirium soon returned: they afterwards became comatose, their pulse sank, and a train of nervous symptoms followed; their skin often became yellow, bilous vomitings and stools were frequent symptoms. The fever reduced the patient’s strength so much that it was generally six weeks or two months before he was able to walk abroad. A consuming flux, a jaundice, a dropsy, or obstructions in the bowels, were the consequences of it. Of 51 white men, being the companies of four ships which were at Catchou one-third died of the fever, and one-third more of the flux and other diseases consequent upon it; and of these not one was taken ill until the rains began.

‘I believe on the whole face of the earth, there is scarce to be found a more unhealthy country than this during the rainy season; and the idea I then conceived of our white people was by making a comparison of their breathing such a noxious air, with a number of silver-fish put into a stagnating water; where, as the water corrupts, the fish grow less lively, they droop, pine away and die.

‘Thus some persons became dull, inactive, or slightly delirious at intervals; and, without being so much as confined to their beds, they expired in that delirious and comatose state in less than 48 hours after being in apparent good health. The white people in general became yellow; their stomachs could not receive much food without loathing and retchings. Indeed it is no wonder that this sickness proved so fatal, that recoveries from itwere so tedious, and that they were attended with fluxes, dropsies, the jaundice, ague-cakes [a curious condition of the spleen] and other dangerous chronical distempers. It seemed more wonderful to me that any white people ever recover, while they continue to breathe so pestiferous an air as that at Catchou during the rainy season. We were, as I have already observed 30 miles from the sea, in a country altogether uncultivated, overflowed with water, surrounded with thick impenetrable woods, and over-run with slime. The air was vitiated, noisome and thick; insomuch that the lighted torches or candle burnt dim, and seemed ready to be extinguished, even the human voice lost its natural tone. The smell of the ground and of the houses was raw and offensive, but the vapour arising from putrid water in the ditches was much worse. All this, however, seemed tolerable, when compared with the infinite number of insects swarming everywhere, both on the ground and in the air; which, as they seemed to be produced and cherished by the putrefaction of the atmosphere, so they contributed greatly to increase its impurity. The wild bees from the woods, together with millions of ants, over-ran and destroyed the furniture of the houses; at the seam time, swarms of cockroaches often darkened the air; and extinguished even candles in their flight; but the greatest plague was the musquettos and sandflies whose incessant buzz and painful stings were more insupportable than any symptom of the fever. Besides all these, an incredible number of frogs on the banks of the river made such a constant and disagreeable croaking, that nothing but being accustomed to such a hideous noise could permit the enjoyment of natural sleep. In the beginning of October, as the rains abated, the weather became very hot; the woods were covered with abundance of dead frogs and other vermin, left by the recess of the river. All the mangroves and shrubs were likewise overspread with stinking slime.” (Thrower, p. 167-9)

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Well, though not GAoP, the Spanish Influenza outbreak of 1918 sure influenced history. It's possible that it even killed more people than the Black Death (according to some estimates). Between 2.5%-5% of the world population died due to the virus, and it affected 20% of the population to some extent. The unusual part is that it effected healthy people in the prime of their lives more than the elderly and extremely young. Definitely a history changer.

Coastie :unsure:

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Right now I am reading a book on the Black Death by Sean Martin. So far it is a very good read not dry like some books.

I have another book I am hoping to tackle called "Disease, The Extraordinary Stories Behind History's Deadliest Killers" by Mary Dobson

Thank you Mission for your excerpt that you posted. I enjoyed reading it and hope that I can maybe find the book you referred to.

Coastie, the Spanish Influenza of 1918 is another pandemic that I have been wanting to read up on. I find it very interesting how quickly it decimated the population in such a short time span. Here is a brief excerpt that I found on one of the websites:

" The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 killed more people than the Great War, known today as World War I (WWI), at somewhere between 20 and 40 million people. It has been cited as the most devastating epidemic in recorded world history. More people died of influenza in a single year than in four-years of the Black Death Bubonic Plague from 1347 to 1351. Known as "Spanish Flu" or "La Grippe" the influenza of 1918-1919 was a global disaster."

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I've mentioned it before, but the neatest book on period disease I've found so far is Guy Williams The Age of Agony (1986). It deals more with land medicine than sea, however. There is no outstanding comprehensive book on sea surgery specifically for the GAOP period IMO (which is part of the reason I'm writing one), but a pretty good book is Zachary Friedenberg's Medicine Under Sail (2002).

Thrower's book can be a trifle pricey and I have my issues with him as I've noted, so I suggest your local library. You can probably get it through inter-library loan if nothing else.

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Thank you Mission. I will let you know if I am able to get this book through the library. I have been wanting to go to the library for quite some time. But I know it will be an all day event when I go cause once I step in to any where that has a plethora of books I find that all time no longer exists and I am lost in my own little world.

Thank you Captain Satan too for your help as well. I will definitely see about finding the book you have suggested. As for your side not on NY, well, hmmm....

The book I am most recently reading on the Black Death by Sean Martin is exceedingly good which is surprising since some books can be very dry in their accounts.

I find that the epidemics and pandemics through out history very interesting in how they changed the course in history. And how much the trade sea faring routes in many cases were the carriers of diseases from one port to the next. It is surprising therefore, that as you mentioned, Mission, that there is not a lot of information on the medicine and surgery at sea.

Thanks again. I am looking forward to hunting down all the books every one has suggested.

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Ooh, ahh...for all your period surgeon buffs, I stumbled across an ad for this in the back of the book A Voyage to Guinea, Brazil and the West Indies by John Atkins. (The reprint book reprinted all the advertisements!):

Prosodia chirurgica: being a lexicon calculated for the use of young students in surgery. Wherein all the terms of art are accounted for, their most received sense given; ... their pronunciation, Published London : printed for T. Corbett, 1729

And, unlike most of these period surgical monsters, I found it free on-line!

Check out this Google Books Link!

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Thanks for the site...very cool.

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Here's an interesting quote from Woodes Rogers book about the Spanish attitude toward syphilis in the New World:

“[1709, the city of Guiaquil] Few of those prisoners that fell into our hands were healthy and sound; near half of our Spaniards discover’d publickly to our Coders their Malady, in order to get Physick from them against the French Disease, which is so common here, that they reckon it not Scandal to be deep in the Powdering Tub [a sweating-tub used for treating venereal disease]; and the Heat of the Country facilitating the Cure, they make wry light of it.” (Rogers, p. 111)

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Now here's something we hope you'll really like. (I have translated some of the medicines for you, but not all of them. It's a royal pain in the arse to do.)

“Chap. XXXL

Teacheth the Cure of the Morbus Venereus.

This Distemper albeit it is not usually got aboard ashhip; yet it often falls to the Sea-Surgeons Lot, to Cure it on board. Therefore I will shew the Cure of it in its different degrees.

Now when the Malign Atoms have not reacht the Liver, so as to infect the blood, but lyes about the Genitals and Seed Vessels, then Nature seeks to expel it thereabouts.

So there is either a running, which is called Gonorhæa, or pricking heat in the Uretra, or Tumor of the Penis, with Ulcerations call’d Shankers, or Buboe’s in the Groin.

Now all this, or any part of this we call but a Clap: Howbeit, it is really the Pox, (a Chip of the same Block) and there is no other difference then only in the Major and Minor.

__

But if it hath past the Liver, and infected the Blood, and spots appear in the Skin; and Nodes on the Head, or Shin bones; and that there is Night Pains; or if there be Ulcers in the Throat; then this we call the Pox (or a confirmed Pox).” (Moyle, p. 137-8)

“Now I will first shew you the Cure of that difference (of the Morbus Venerius) called a Clap.

And first of a Gonorhæa, or Running at the Yard [penis].

This requires good Purging, with Medicines proper and specifick to it. For no man is to give things to stop it, any otherwise then by fair purging: Least in so doing, he Causes it to mingle with the Blood, and so become a confirm’d Pox: And indeed, letting of Blood will do the like; for that revulsion makes for the malign Atoms or Fumes to ascend from the Pocky ferment in the Inferior parts, and teints the blood in the Superior; and so by and by intolerable Headach, and other confirm’d Symptoms succeed.

__

Now the purging Pills that I would recommend unto you are as follows.

Rx. Pil. rudii {scruple}j. radin Julep. gr. v. {Mercury} dulc. gr. X. misce f. Pilulæ, for one Dose.

Let this be followed every other day, for five times taking, the patient governing himself as in other Purges.

But he must forbear the Actio Venerea [intercourse], as also strong Liquors, and keep to fresh and wholsom Diet.

By this time the Disease must be very violent indeed if it doth not mitigate, and if the malignity be not carried off.

And now you may give him this Potio alba [white drink] following;

Terebinth. Cypr. {ounce}f. Vitel. ov. No. j. Open the Terebinth [turpentine] with it, then add aq. Plantag. q.s. mix them well together, and strain it, for one Dose.

Let him take this last at Night, and first in the Morning for five times

__

going, and ‘tis ten to one by this time, if the Gonorhæa is not Cured.

But if it should not, but that still there is a gleeting [runny discharge]; you must to Purging again, for two or three times more, and after that the Potio alb. again.

But sometimes when the Pills are left off, and the Potion is taken; there ariseth Inflammation and Pimples on the Penis, and there is small Shankers on the Glans [end of the penis], and the Yard is Tumified [puffy and swollen] and Pained, and some Excoriations [tearing of the skin] in the passage causing difficulty and pricking [ha ha] in making the Urine.

As to the inner part, you are to inject by Syringe, that known Lotion, of aq. Plantag. [plantane], and Pulv. Troch. alb. Rhaff. mixed, let it be done often.

And the Tumifaction, foment with Decoct. Althææ [an amino acid extracted from marsh mallow plants], then anoint the Pimples with Unguentum alb. Camph. [Camphor and egg white unguent] and if little Ulcers, touch them with Mellis Egypitaci [an oil-free mixture of copper acetate (verdigris), vinegar, and honey], and apply a Paracelsi Plaster [Emplastrum Strictum – composed of olive oil, yellow wax, litharge, ammoniacum, bdellum, galbaneum and bunch of other things] about the Penis.” (John Moyle, Chirurgus Marinus or The Sea-Chirurgion., p. 138-41)

There's a whole bunch more - he really has a lot to say on the subject. Maybe I'll post more later.

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