Smallpox threatened Boyle County in the early 1900s

Published 1:28 pm Monday, September 25, 2017

Smallpox, an infectious disease that caused a rash and blisters in the mouth and throat, was a threat to Boyle County area in the early 1900s, according to The Advocate Messenger archives.

Smallpox was one of the easiest contracted of all the contagious diseases at that time, however, after vaccinations to prevent smallpox were discovered and made available, it helped eradicate the virus.

Vaccinations for smallpox was dropped in Kentucky in 1972.

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It was the first time in the state when parents with children entering the first grade would not have to show that their youngsters were immunized against smallpox before they could be registered.

The General Assembly removed smallpox from a list of diseases against children saying they must be vaccinated before entering school.

The state Department of Health said the reason is simple — the cure has been worse than the disease, a health official said.

Only protection is vaccine

The State Board of Health issued a statement in February 1909 urging everyone in Kentucky to get the vaccine, especially young children.

It may be contracted and the victim be unaware that he has been near a case of smallpox. Crowds, movies, crowded trains and street cars are all dangerous if there should be a case of smallpox present.

“After exposure the disease usually develops about the 12th day.”

Over 130 years ago, a man in England discovered how to prevent smallpox, yet each year in Kentucky there are many cases and some unnecessary deaths, these being the result of the failure to be vaccinated.

“The one absolute prevention against smallpox is vaccination. Every child should be vaccinated before he is a year old and again upon starting to school.

“The vaccination gives protection for seven years, and it is wise to be vaccinated every seven years.

The vaccine is prepared under the control of the U.S. Government. It is placed in glass tubes until used by a doctor who makes a slight scratch on the arm or leg to apply the vaccine. It causes little trouble.

Isn’t it better to have one small scar than to have many scars over the body? The vaccination mark is a mark of safety.

The Board of Health urged everyone in Kentucky to get the vaccine and said each should have a safety mark.

A yellow flag was displayed outside homes as a warning not to enter where a family member suffered from smallpox.

Helps to get work

The Advocate also stated “The smallpox virus not only made people ill, it was also a recommendation if people were looking for work.

“All our ancestors were pockmarked, and having had smallpox was a recommendation if your were looking for work,” according to a local physician.

“What I mean is that you couldn’t get a job if you had not had smallpox. No one wanted a servant who was liable at any moment to be stricken down with the loathsome disease.”

As an example, the doctor pointed to a 1774 newspaper “Help Wanted” advertisement:

“Wanted, a man between 20 and 30 years of age, to be footman and under-butler in a great family. He must have had smallpox in the natural way. Also, a woman, middle-aged, to wait upon a young lady of great fortune and fashion. The woman must have had the smallpox in the natural way.”

Efforts made to stop disease

Boyle County was making efforts to suppress the disease in January 1903 in Junction City by hiring competent physicians to take charge of the cases.

An article indicated the accounts of the epidemic have been greatly exaggerated.

Local authorities will take steps for the effectual repression of the smallpox at once.

The Courier-Journal reported that a quarantine will be ordered unless immediate steps be taken.

However, no alarm was felt in Danville, except from a business standpoint, as the disease was completely stamped out of the entire community nearly a year ago and there hasn’t been any return.

At present there are not cases closer than Junction city. The others are 12 miles away in Mitchellsburg.

A quarantine against the county would mean a death blow to all kinds of business, and the business people should take the matter in hand.

The county attorney authorized the severest measures to repress the outbreak and the County Board of Health has taken the situation in hand.

Funds were raised in Danville to defray expenses of purchasing vaccine points and maintaining guards if necessary.

The measures, if enforced, as they will be, ought to remove the possibility of a state quarantine.