COVID 19 (Coronavirus) has consumed the media, politics, big pharma, the health industry, and too many facets of our lives for the past three years. I’m not aware of any families who have totally escaped it. Worldometer.info has maintained a living clock dedicated to the global statistics for COVID 19 cases from January 22, 2020, (the earliest statistics available) through today (December 31, 2021). Today’s data show worldwide cases of COVID at 287,574,670 and worldwide deaths at 5,449,965, (among other specifics). That’s nearly a 2-percent global rate of death among COVID cases.
The above introduction is my way to juxtapose other familial epidemics or well-known diseases that I have discovered over my 41 years of genealogical research. One example: my maternal great-grandmother, Lydia Malvina Lathrop (nee Westler), who was born to German immigrants from the state of Baden-Württemberg in southwest Germany. She was a mother of 11 children and among the 13.7 percent of nearly 14,000 Pennsylvanians infected with and succumbed to typhoid fever in 1910. She was just 49 years old, and left behind her husband William Bernard Lathrop (age 63), and nine of her 11 children.
Media first dubbed Mary Mallon “Typhoid Mary,” in a New York American article dated June 20, 1909. She was an Irish-born American cook believed to have infected 53 people with typhoid fever, three of whom died, and the first person in the United States identified as an asymptomatic carrier of the disease pathogen, Salmonella typhi. Although Mallon never had any of the typhoid fever symptoms which included fever, headaches, and diarrhea, New York Health Department authorities forcibly quarantined her at North Brother Island. Mary spent nearly 30 years in forced isolation in large part due to public opinion. She suffered a stroke in 1932 and was confined to the Riverside Hospital on North Brother Island. She died there at age 69 from pneumonia on November 11, 1938.
Below, is the Case fatality from typhoid fever in Pennsylvania, 1910, 1911, 1912. This table shows the numbers of cases reported and the numbers of deaths registered by age in years. (Pennsylvania is to be commended as the first of the states to start collecting these data.)
In 1910, the U.S. Population Census for the State of Pennsylvania was counted at 7,665,111. As you can see within the highlighted area of the table above that Lydia was among the 223 deaths that occurred out of the 972 recorded typhoid cases for the 3-year-period 1910-1912 (a rate of morbidity of 22.9 percent). If we look closer at just the 1910 cases of typhoid fever (382) for people ages 45-49 years old, we can see that this age group accounted for five percent of that state’s population reported cases. And of those who were unfortunate enough to contract the disease in 1910, nearly one-quarter of the infected persons (23.2 percent) succumbed to it. Lydia died in Wyalusing at 7 a.m. on Thursday, May 5, 1910. When great-grandmother Malvina passed, my grandmother Loretta (one of her 11 children) was just 15 years old.
To conclude my comparison of today’s COVID pandemic to the early twentieth-century typhoid fever endemic in Pennsylvania where my grandmother’s families lived, we can easily see that typhoid fever, like COVID, deeply affected their communities, families, and friends.
Eight years after my great-grandmother Lydia’s passing, her husband/my maternal great-grandfather, William Bernard Lathrop, age 71, (a carpenter by trade), died at his home in Wyalusing, at 11:45 a.m. on Thursday, September 5, 1918. His cause of death was listed as “cancer of the bowels,” or colon cancer as we know it today. I remember my grandmother Loretta Lathrop Ford telling me that her father died when she was 23 and all she knew about his death was that he suffered from aches in his stomach. Without further information about his illness or the circumstances of his life just prior to his death, I researched the etymology of cancer and known treatments. Historic data tells us:
- Around 400 B.C., the Greek physician Hippocrates (known as “the father of medicine”), is said to have first named masses of cancerous cells.
- In 1761, Giovanni Morgagni of Padua, Italy, was the first to autopsy patients’ bodies to learn about the pathologies of their illnesses.
- In the 1800s and early 1900s, anesthesia, CT scans, tumor-killing drugs and other advanced treatments were still a far-off dream.
- In the 19th century scientific oncology added the newly invented microscope to study diseased tissues and develop cancer surgeries.
- Patients in the 19th and early 20th Centuries were fearful of doctors who hadn’t yet developed antiseptic surgical procedures which meant surgery for cancer was painful and apt to result in their deaths.
- The discovery of X-rays and radiation by Becquerel and Roentgen in the late 19th century was the first step towards radiation treatment. Marie Curie’s work greatly contributed to the development of radiotherapy. The first cancer case cured exclusively by radiation occurred in 1898.
Even in the 21st Century, “cancer,” is one of the scariest diagnoses one can receive. In 2021 in the United States, there were an estimated 1,898,160 new cancer cases and an estimated 608,570 cancer deaths–that’s about one in three deaths out of those who were diagnosed with cancer!
Leading Causes of Death in the United States: 2019
- Heart disease: 659,041
- Cancer: 599,601
- Accidents (unintentional injuries): 173,040
- Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 156,979
- Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 150,005
- Alzheimer’s disease: 121,499
- Diabetes: 87,647
- Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 51,565
- Influenza and pneumonia: 49,783
- Intentional self-harm (suicide): 47,511
So you tell me, which endemic, epidemic, or pandemic whether now or then, scares you the most!