Yellow Fever

Ship of Death: A Voyage That Changed the Atlantic World chronicles the voyage of the Hankey, a British ship travelling from a failed West African colony for freed slaves to the Caribbean and North America. Travelling with them were infected mosquitoes, ultimately giving rise to the Philadelphia’s Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793: ‘the resulting pandemic as the Hankey travelled from one port to the next was catastrophic.’

At the height of the crisis, one Benjamin Rush published his Directions for Curing and Treating the Yellow Fever, a fearsome tome that advocated purging, bleeding and a specially conceived medicine of his own devising:

“At the first sign of symptoms, more especially if those symptoms be accompanied by a redness, or faint yellowness in the eyes, and dull or shooting pains about the region of the liver, take one of the powders in a little sugar and water, every six hours, until they produce four or five large evacuations from the bowels…” He urged that the patient stay in bed and “drink plentifully” of barley or chicken water. Then after the “bowels are thoroughly cleaned,” it was proper to take 8 to 10 ounces of blood from the arm if, after purging, the pulse was full or tense. To keep the body open he recommended more calomel or small doses of cream of tarter or other salts. If the pulse was weak and low, he recommended camomile or snakeroot as a stimulant, and blisters or blankets soaked in hot vinegar wrapped around the lower limbs. To restore the patient he recommended “gruel, sago, panada, tapioca, tea, coffee, weak chocolate, wine whey, chicken broth, and white meats, according to the weak or active state of the system; the fruits of the season may be eaten with advantage at all times.” The sick room should be kept cool and vinegar should be sprinkled around the floor.”
(from Wikipedia)

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