New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

Diphtheria in New Brunswick in the Year 1889

with one comment

From the blog at

Diphtheria in New Brunswick in the Year 1889

Diphtheria is rare today due to immunization, but was common in New Brunswick in earlier days. Most people would have been exposed to the bacterium sometime during their youth, without developing symptoms. This would have caused them to become self-immunized, which is why it was generally thought of as a childhood disease. It was not restricted to children, however, and young adults, or adults of any age, could still contract it.

Diphtheria seemed to come and go at intervals in a community, because of the process of self-immunization. Thus, epidemics would occur and many, mostly younger, people would be stricken. The disease would then subside until, in a few years, it would strike again infecting those who had not been around during the previous outbreak. This phenomenon seemed particularly cruel, almost demonic.

Diphtheria was usually accompanied by a sore throat, fever, swelling of glands and mucus membranes, and weakness. In advanced cases, the swollen membranes in the throat could interfere with breathing and the patient would appear to be suffocating.

The death rate from diphtheria has been reduced to less than three percent these days, due to more effective treatment. The appended report indicates that the death rate in New Brunswick in 1889 was closer to ten percent.

It was also stated in the report that 181 cases of diphtheria had been reported in New Brunswick in 1889, resulting in 18 deaths. The authors thought, however, that there might have been more cases than that since reporting was apparently not what it should have been. This doubt as to the actual number of cases appears to be well founded since in the very next year, in 1890, there were eleven deaths from diphtheria just in the tiny community surrounding Peltoma Lake in the Tracy Station area. These included five of the children of William Neary, who died one per day, over the course of five days. There is some indication that proper quarantines were not adhered to, and that the school had been left open during the outbreak.

Neary Cemetery

A memorial, erected at the Neary Cemetery near Peltoma Lake

Following, then, is the Annual Report of the Board of Health for the year 1889. Sections of the report dealing with diseases other than diphtheria have mostly been excluded.


Infectious Diseases

During the early part of the present year our ordinary infectious diseases were quite prevalent throughout the whole Province. However, the rate of mortality from these diseases has not been high. Of 181 cases of diphtheria reported to the Provincial Board, but 18, or 1 in 10 were fatal; of 474 of Scarletina but 28, or 1 in 17, were fatal; and of 99 cases of Measles reported none were fatal. Although these numbers may not fairly represent the whole number of cases of these diseases which have occurred during the year, probably the rate of mortality from the sources is more correct.


Diphtheria has occurred at Grand Falls, Three Brooks, Geary, French Lake, Fredericton Junction, Portland, St. John, Moncton, Woodstock, Spring Hill, Kingston, Fredericton, Rothesay, Springfield, Lancaster, McAdam Junction, Hartin Settlement, Canterbury Station, Victoria Settlement, Perth, North Head, St. Stephen, Stanley, Jacquet River.

The greatest number of cases has occurred in Sunbury Co., at Geary, French Lake, and at or near Fredericton Junction. At these places, in almost every instance, it has been possible to trace the cause of the disease to infection. Its spread has been largely due to misrepresenting or misunderstanding the nature of the disease or to gross carelessness. In villages and county districts it is in some respects more difficult for local Boards of Health to restrict the speed of infectious disease than in cities. An early knowledge of the existence of the disease is not so rapidly obtained and it is also more difficult to see that the proper precautions are observed.

Diphtheria at Fredericton Junction:

At various times during the year diphtheria has appeared at Fredericton Junction, or in the immediate vicinity of that place. In most cases, however, it has been possible to trace its connection with disease existing at some other place, or to a previous outbreak at the same place.

The following instances aptly illustrate the persistency with which the disease clings to certain places, and to household effects, etc.

In January, 1889, a child of 4 years of age, in the family of S___m was attacked with diphtheria. The remaining children were sent from home at once, and none of them contracted the disease. After the recovery of the child the family moved to Fredericton Junction, a distance of eleven miles. The other children did not return home for one month afterward. In the meantime thorough cleaning and fumigation had been carried out by the family but without any special instructions in reference to it. Within the first ten days after the return of the other children, two of them were attacked with diphtheria. After they recovered the house was thoroughly cleaned, fumigated, whitewashed and papered. In November of the same year a child 12 years of age was attacked with the same disease. Just before being attacked some winter clothing, which had been in use during the attack of the previous winter, was put in the child’s bed. This was undoubtedly the source of the disease in this instance. The nature of the disease was not recognized for some time, it being mistaken for quinsy. Thus, the whole family, consisting of the father, mother, four children and nurse, were infected. The child first attacked died of the disease. The nurse and one child were attacked 5 days after the first illness, the mother one week later, the father and another child five days later.

The bedding from which the first child evidently contracted the disease had been washed after being in use during the first attack of the disease and had been stored away for about nine months. From this family the disease spread to two other families in one of which five persons had the disease. The medium of the infection was a man who visited the house for the purpose of supplying the family with groceries and necessities. Some of the members of his own family were first attacked and from them the second family contracted the disease. Cases such as this illustrate what is of too frequent occurrence in different parts of the Province and shows the necessity of immediately and completely quarantining every house in which a case of Diphtheria exists.

Diphtheria at McAdam Junction:

During the month of April, Diphtheria spread from Fredericton Junction to McAdam Junction. A Music Teacher at the former place, who boarded at the house where the children had been attacked with Diphtheria, had a sore throat. It was of very slight nature and little importance was attached to it. In a few days she resumed her ordinary work. A daughter of Mr. B. at McAdam Junction went to take her usual music lesson at Fredericton Junction. About a week after her return she was attacked with Diphtheria. Unfortunately, her father kept a Private Boarding House in which there were about 20 Boarders, who were employed about the Railway works at McAdam Junction. There being no local Board of Health at the time for York County, the Secretary of the Provincial Board, was notified, but not until the Boarders had left the house. The house was at once quarantined, other precautions were taken to prevent the spread of the disease, and no one excepting the members of this family became infected. About three weeks after the recovery of the last of those who had been ill at his time another case occurred in the same house.

Since then another case has occurred in the village but it was thought to have been imported. At the time of the first outbreak at McAdam Junction, this village was in a very undesirable condition from a sanitary point of view. The water closets were of the poorest description, the wells were badly situated, there was very little attempt at drainage of any description and the inhabitants themselves were very careless as to the accumulation of refuse about their premises. Although considerable improvement has been affected in these respects the village is still far from being in satisfactory condition. Now that a Board of Health in York County has been appointed it is hoped that these evils will be remedied to a much greater extent.

[Tables were then presented showing the monthly numbers of cases of four infectious diseases. The following totals have been extracted:]

Disease Cases Recovered Died Outcome unclear
Diphtheria 208 194 14
Scarlet fever 539 497 42
Typhoid fever 282 258 19 5
Measles 114 93 1 20
Total 1143 1042 76 25

[These totals, generated from the monthly statistics do not agree with the opening paragraph of the report.]


Written by johnwood1946

May 6, 2015 at 9:16 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Very interesting article. Been there many times. Sad what they went through. Cemeteryt needs work.
    S.R. Nason

    S.R. Nason

    December 9, 2018 at 5:57 PM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: