Tag Archives: ship-borne disease

Right idea. Wrong premise.

a vessel going from the infected quarter, and carrying it’s atmosphere in it’s hold into another state, has given the disease to every person who there entered her. these have died in the arms of their family without a single communication of the disease. it is certainly therefore an epidemic, not a contagious disease; and calls on the chemists for some mode of purifying the vessel by a decomposition of it’s atmosphere, if ventilation be found insufficient.
From Thomas Jefferson to Constantin François Chasseboeuf Volney,  February 8, 1805

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about diseases that ravaged the nation in Thomas Jefferson’s time.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Empirical evidence leading to a logical conclusion might be wrong.
Jefferson concluded the yellow fever was not contagious but endemic, transmitted not by people but by fouled air generated in certain conditions along the coast. To buttress that position, he wrote that a ship sailing from one diseased area would carry it to another in the fouled air below deck. If ventilation could not be improved, it fell to the scientists (in this case, chemists) to devise a new method “of purifying the vessel.”

The real cause of yellow fever, the mosquito, would remain undetected for another 100 years. It is likely the ships in question carried not diseased air but disease-bearing insects from one port to another.

Your audience is invited to judge the applicability of Mr. Jefferson’s wisdom to the current age.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
1 Comment Posted in Health, Natural history (science) Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , |