The yellow fever increases. The week before last about 3. a day died. This last week about 11. a day have died; consequently from known data about 33. a day are taken, and there are about 330. patients under it. They are much scattered through the town, and it is the opinion of the physicians that there is no possibility of stopping it. They agree it is a non-descript disease [without distinctive features or characteristics], and no two agree in any one part of their process of cure.
Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, September 8, 1793
In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about the 1793 yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia, the nation’s capital at the time, which killed 5,000 of the city’s 50,000 residents.
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Sometimes there are no answers.
Secretary of State Jefferson reported to friend and Congressman Madison at home in Virginia on the yellow fever devastating Philadelphia. Evidence-based medical practice was in its infancy, yet all doctors, college trained or self-taught, agreed on two things:
1. There was no uniform description of the disease.
2. There was no way to stop it.