Thursday, April 7, 2016

Diphtheria: The Plague Among Children

Peter Semple and Mayme (Zebio) Muir's daughter, Pearl Ivy, died at the age of 7 of diphtheria. Had Pearl gotten sick just a few short years later, she likely would have been treated or even vaccinated, and lived to adulthood.

Last year in the United States no cases of diphtheria were reported; it is routinely prevented by vaccine and treated with antibiotics. However, it was once a major cause of illness among children. The year before Pearl's death, the U.S. recorded 206,000 cases, resulting in 15,520 deaths. Effective immunization against diphtheria became widely available in the 1920s, just a few years after Pearl died.

Children were most vulnerable to diphtheria. In 1925 an outbreak in Nome, Alaska, made national news as the antitoxin was rushed to the remote city by dog sled. The event is now celebrated annually by the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Balto, the lead sled dog became a famous canine celebrity and news coverage helped spur the inoculation campaign that dramatically reduced the threat of diphtheria.

Statue of Balto in Central Park, New York; photograph
courtesy of Wikipedia

'Balto Statue,' Wikipedia
History of Vaccines,

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