Everything Has Always Been Terrible

A series in which I recall that suffering in human life is something all humans have in common.

Ever seen professional medical portraits of a tongue progressing through a disease? Well, I hadn’t.

Cadiz Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1800

You don’t know until you know. Is the vague statement I am making to begin this entry. (Apologies to Perd Hapley.)

You look good, bro.

You don’t know if bad smells are the smell of sickness, and you don’t know that mosquitos are much worse than they seem (which is pretty bad). You don’t know that a cannon blast won’t clear the air. Or if vinegar and garlic are as protective as they are fragrant.

You don’t know who to blame, either, though in this case the blame was placed on Cuba. People went from Spain to Cuba, sure, and it turns out they also went back.

What’s wrong, bro?

Dr. Jose Maria Mocino was good enough to be honest about how useless doctors were: “I cannot disguise the fact, that in effect we found ourselves in disagreement about the nosological determination of the disease, about its etiology, about its pathological nature, and as a consequence about the therapeutic, preventative and hygienic matters it necessitates.”

That’s the kind of BS advanced study will teach you to write, friends.

Uh, bro…?

Like many doctors of the day, Mocino suspected that yellow fever had something to do with swampiness. Man you’re almost there. Who… lives… in a swamp… and has blood contact with people?

If only we could go back and fill people in.

Though it might create a disturbance in the space-time continuum.

o snap

Images above are from a study done by doctors Etienne Pariset and Andre Mazet in Cadiz, not in 1800, but in 1820, and I think you’ll forgive the slight move forward in time in order to enjoy such quality professional portraits.

I’m sure that guy was fine in the end.

Pariset wrote something called Mémoire sur les causes de la peste et sur les moyens de la détruire (On the causes of the plague, and how to destroy it). Which is a title I might use someday.

Etienne Pariset, with a big of “oh, yeah?” in his eyes.

Now I’m going to digress: Pariset did his dissertation on uterine hemorrhage, and then became head of the “mental illness” department of a hospital (periods make ya crazy, amirite ladies?). In 1810 he served on a committee to improve conditions for people with mental illness. Why did he go from mental illness to yellow fever?

Good question.

Oh, and he and was good friends with famed archeologist Jean Francois Champollion, who helped decode the Rosetta Stone.

One last bit: in 1845 he helped found the French Society for the Protection of Animals, serving as their first president until his death.

Pariset’s grave in Paris, in Pere Lachaise, where I went many years ago. I very well might have walked past it, because I got quite lost looking for Chopin’s grave.

Anyway, In five months in 1800, around 8,000 people died of yellow fever in Cadiz.

Today we have a cheap vaccine for yellow fever, offering lifetime immunity without a booster. Good work, scientists. Sadly, on the African continent about 30,000 people a year die of yellow fever. This is due to a scarcity of vaccine, among other factors.

People are working on it. The UN World Health Organization hoped to vaccinate everyone by 2026, but I’m guessing covid may have set them back a bit. Their campaign is called EYE (Eliminate Yellow Fever Epidemics), and that strikes me as quite the misnomer.


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