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  • Writer's pictureLinda A Cowdrick

Typhoid Fever and Ice Blocks

Raise your hand if you've seen the movie Frozen! Watching the men cut ice into ice blocks in that movie was so fascinating to me even as an animation. To that point, I never even gave ice much thought. I mean, my freezer makes it for me so I have cute little cubes to put into my cocktails.

Before most of the world even had refrigerators or the tiny little freezers that came with them, we had to buy ice. Maybe it was chopped up. Maybe it was in a huge block. Either way, it certainly started out as a block. What does any of this have to do with Typhoid Fever?

In researching the 1903 horrible breakout of Typhoid Fever that took many lives around the globe, I came across an article written in the New-York Tribune about how authorities were on the hunt for the men who were responsible, at least partly, for a local outbreak because the ice blocks were taken from polluted waters. Ewe!

In another article, written later that summer, the Daily People warns its readers (as if they needed reminding) that freezing temperatures do not kill bacteria. The article continues to state that snow ice may contain more than 600 bacteria per cubic centimeter and that 7000 bacteria germs have been found in ice cream. Talk about a summer heart break.

We see similar stories today about sickness and disease spread as they pertain to sanitary conditions or lack there of. Today, we are lucky enough to have a lot more precautions in place.

In our own current pandemic with Covid-19, we are using contact tracing to find the source of cases and prevent its spread. Authorities tried to do the same in 1903 with Typhoid. Did they ever find the men who cut the contaminated blocks of ice? They did not. But later that year, Dr. William F. Bissell announced that lemonade is fatal to the bacteria. So now, when life gives you lemons....

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