Fever 1793

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This book was a “Nutmeg” choice back when I was in Middle School (a selection of the top-ten middle school age reads chosen every year in CT) that my mom picked it out for me one day at the library. I absolutely loved it, bought it, still read it (I’m 25 now), and bought almost every narrative nonfiction there is about Yellow Fever. If there’s a subject about which students be taught more, it’s medicine — not just the Black Plague, but diseases like Yellow Fever, the 1918 Influenza Epidemic, the Diphtheria Epidemic of 1925, polio, the 1920s Sleeping Sickness, and how hard and dangerously doctors and scientists — sometimes at odds — worked and still work to find the cause and eradicate these diseases. I think it would make us a little more grateful that these fears are practically abolished in first-world countries. It’s particularly revelant thanks to the quickly-growing “Anti-vax” fad. If you haven’t heard of it, here’s a summary:

Rich white moms have nothing better to worry about, so they mind-fucked themselves into believing vaccinations are more harm than good. This fits perfectly into their organic, anti-manmade granola vegan crunch lifestyle. They believe that NOT vaccinating is healthier than vaccinating– for the good of society! “My kid, my choice.” 

With that being said, I learned an interesting little tidbit about Yellow Fever. After practically yearly epidemics following similar seasons (hot, wet springs and summers), several scientists began to suspect that Yellow Fever was not a bacterium killed at the first frost, but spread by the mosquito. They undertook extreme research in Cuba during the late 1800s in order to prove this against esteemed doctors who believed that Yellow Fever was a germ, and that the idea of mosquito-borne illness was laughable. “Extreme” research meant human volunteer test subjects, including themselves. They created a “hospital” room enclosed in screens that they filled with mosquitoes (those mosquitoes had bitten Yellow Fever victims). They locked themselves in a cabin for 21 days and only dressed in clothes contaminated by Yellow Fever victims, beds slept in by Yellow Fever Victims, and blankets covered in blood, vomit, and other bodily fluids from the ill. When they came out of the cabin completely healthy, it proved once and for all that Yellow Fever is not contagious.

Since Fever, 1793 is historical fiction and takes place nearly 100 years before the events that led to Yellow Fever being named the first-ever discovered virus, it makes sense that the characters behave in a way that borders hysteria: afraid to touch or get too close to the ill, afraid to bury them, afraid to help cure them or care for them– they don’t know how it’s spread. However, I felt a little misled, particularly at the end when Mattie is throwing her furniture outside and ecstatic about frost (implying that the frost will kill off the germs/bacteria of the disease). “Disease” implies contagious, airborne, touchable contaminant. But Yellow Fever is actually a virus and can’t do any of those things. The only way a person can become ill is by being bitten by a mosquito that carries the virus.