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CHAPTER X.

MALARIAL DISBASEa

So far an remote agricultural districts are concerned, h in not probable that the mere question of health would induce the undertaking of costly drainage operations, although this consideration may operate, in connection with the need for an improved condition of soil, as a strong argument in its favor. As a rule, " the chills" are accepted by farmers, especially at the West, as one of the slight inconveniences attending their residence on rich lands; and it is not proposed, in this work, to urge the evils of this terrible disease, and of "sun pain,"*or "day neuralgia," as a reason for draining the immense prairies over which they prevail. The diseases exist,—to the incalculable detriment of the people,—and thorough draining would remove them, and would doubtless bring a large average return on the investment; — but the question is, after all, one of capital; and the cost of such draining as would remove fever-and-ague from the bottom lands and prairies of the West, and from the infected agricultural districts at the East, would be more than the agricultural capita] of those districts could spare for the purpose 308

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In the vicinity of cities and towns, however, where more wealth has accumulated, and where the number of persons subjected to the malarial influence is greater, there can be no question as to the propriety of draining, even if nothing but improved health be the object.

Then again, there are immense tracts near the large cities of this country which would be most desirable for residence, were it not that their occupancy, except with certain constant precautions, implies almost inevitable suffering from fever-and-ague, or neuralgia.

Very few neighborhoods within thirty miles of the city of New York are entirely free from these scourges, whose influence has greatly retarded their occupation by those who are seeking country homes; while many, who have braved the dangers of disease in these localities, have had sad cause to regret their temerity.

Probably the most striking instance of the effect of malaria on the growth and settlement of suburban districts, is to be found on Staten Island. Within five miles of the Battery; accessible by the most agreeable and best managed ferry from the city; practically, nearer to Wall street than Murray Hill is; with most charming views of land and water; with a beautifully diversified surface, and an excellent soil; and affording capital opportunities for sea bathing, it should be, (were it not for its sanitary reputation, it inevitably would be,) one vast residence-park. Except on its extreme northern end, and along its higher ridges, it has,—and, unfortunately, it deserves,—a moet unenviable reputation for insalubrity. Here and there, on the southern slope also, there are favored places which are unaccountably free from the pest, but, as a rule, it is, during the summer and autumn, unsafe to live there without having constant recourse to preventive medication, or exercising unusual and inconvenient precautions with regard to exposure to mid-day sun and evening dew. There are always to be found attractive residences, which are deserted by their owners, and are offered for sale at absurdly low puces. There are isolated instances of very thorough and very costly draining, which has failed of effect, because so ex tensive a malarial region cannot be reclaimed by anything short of a systematic improvement of the whole.

It has been estimated that the thorough drainage of the low lands, valleys and pqnds of the eastern end of the island, including two miles of the south shore, would at once add $5,000,000 to the market value of the real estate of that section. There can be no question that any radical improvement in this respect would remove the only ob stacle to the rapid settlement of the island by those who wish to live in the country, yet need to be near to the business portion of the city. The hope of such improvement being made, however, seems as remote as ever,—although any one at all acquainted with the sources of miasm, in country neighborhoods, can readily see the cause of the difficulty, and the means for its removal are as plainly suggested.

Staten' Island is, by no means, alone in this respect. All who know the history of the settlement of the other suburbs of New York are very well aware that those places which are free from fever-and-ague and malarial neuralgia, are extremely rare.

The exact cause of fever-and-ague and othei malarial diseases is unknown, but it is demonstrated that, whatever the cause, it generally accompanies a combination of circumstances, one of which is undue moisture in the soil. It is not necessary that land should be absolutely marshy to produce the miasm, for this often arises on cold, springy uplands which are quite free from deposits of muck. Thus far, the attention of scientific investigators, given to the consideration of the origin of malarial diseases, has failed to discover any well established facts concerning it; but there have been developed certain theories, which seem to be sustained by such knowledge as exists on the subject.

Dr. Bartlett, in his work on the Fevers of the United States, says: — " The essential, efficient, producing cause "of periodical fever, — the poison whose action on M the system gives rise to the disease,—is a substance or "agent which has received the names of malaria, or marsh "miasm. The nature and composition of this poison are "wholly unknown to us. Like most other analagous "agents, like the contagious principle of small-pox and of "typhus, and like the epidemic poison of scarletina and "cholera, they are too subtle to be recognized by any "of our senses, they are too fugitive to be caught by any '' of our contrivances.

"As always happens in such cases and under similar "circumstances, in the absence of positive knowledge, we "have been abundantly supplied with conjecture and spec"ulation; what observation has failed to discover, hy"pothesis has endeavored and professed to supply. It is "quite unncessary even to enumerate the different sub"stances to which malaria has been referred. Amongst "them are all of the chemical products and compounds "possible in wet and marshy localities; moisture alone;

* the products of animal and vegetable decomposition; "and invisible living organisms. * * * * Inscruta"ble, however, as the intimate nature of the substances "or agents may be, there are some few of its laws and "relations which are very well ascertained. One of these "consists in its connection with low, or wet, or marshy

• localities. This connection is not invariable and exclu"sive, that is, there are marshy localities which are not "malarious, and there are malarious localities which are "not marshy; but there is no doubt whatever that it gen"erally exists."

In a report to the United States Sanitary Commission, Dr. Metcalfe states, that all hypotheses, even the most plausible, are entirely unsupported by positive knowledge and he says: —

"This confession of ignorance still leaveg.us in posses"sion of certain knowledge concerning malaria, from which "much practical good may be derived.

"1st. It affects, by preference, low and moist localities

"2d. It is almost never developed at a lower tempera'ture than 60° Fahrenheit.

"3d. Its evolution or active agency is checked by a "temperature of 32°.

"4th. It is most abundant and most virulent as we ap"proach the equator and the sea-coast.

"5th. It has an affinity for dense foliage, which has the "power of accumulating it, when lying in the course of 'winds blowing from malarious localities.

"6th. Forests, or even woods, have the power of ob"structing and preventing its transmission, under these

circumstances.

"7th. By atmospheric currents it is capable of being "transported to considerable distances—probably as far as "five miles.

"8th. It may be developed, in previously healthy places, "by turning up the soil; as in making excavations for "foundations of houses, tracks for railroads, and beds for "canals.

"9th. In certain cases it seems to be»attracted and ab"sorbed by bodies of water lying in the course of such u winds as waft it from the miasmatic source.

"10th. Experience alone can enable us to decide as to "the presence or absence of malaria, in any given locality.

"11th. In proportion as countries, previously malarious, "are cleared up and thickly settled, periodical fevers dis> "appear—in many instances to be replaced by the typhoid u or typhus."

La Roche, in a carefully prepared treatise on "Pneumonia; its Supposed Connection with Autumnal Fevers," r»

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