What struck me was the prominence of issues of simply ensuring clean supplies of water and milk to the population. Thinking about the date, I realized that milk pasteurization wasn't widespread in the United States until several decades later!
Bulletin No. 1 for the Oregon State Board of Health concerns what was then a continuing epidemic of smallpox in Oregon and in other states.
The bulletin focuses in particular on an outbreak that occurred in central Oregon, which the authors take pains to identify as "one vast sanitarium," owing to the "variety of diet, pure water, and magnificent air to be found there." Yet, ominously, "into this Eden comes the smallpox serpent, concealed in the body of a young Pennsylvanian farmer, bent upon that polite form of robbery of the Government which has made Oregon famous -- known as the 'timber claim.'" (If anyone thinks that historical public health bulletins make for dry reading, I invite you to investigate the dramatic flair of this report's authors!) Between Prineville and Shaniko, the young farmer was taken with chills and "some sort of an eruption," declared by the physician in the party to be the results of poison oak. This was, of course, an unfortunate misdiagnosis, and the young man died of smallpox several days later, after a local physician correctly identified the illness.
Local authorities moved quickly to report the incident to the State Board of Health and to vaccinate those who had made contact with the unfortunate young farmer. The bulletin goes on to follow the detail the three "crops" of resulting cases arising in Prineville and Shaniko, and reports with satisfaction that, "in a population of certainly not to exceed four thousand souls in the county, thirty two hundred were vaccinated within two weeks." The authors attribute the great success in containing the outbreak to successful vaccination:
In the same vein, and, in my opinion, a slightly dramatic twist, on the next page they connect the Prineville and Shaniko outbreaks' origins to the young Pennsylvania farmer's resistance to getting vaccinated!
It's pretty interesting to note that two of the central issues that the Oregon State Board of Health was grappling with over a century ago, milk supply safety and vaccination against infectious diseases, are still pertinent today: A simple Google search on the history of milk pasteurization turns up numerous sites decrying pasteurized milk laws and exhorting the benefits of raw milk "as nature intended." Similarly, vaccine resistance and its effects have been put in the spotlight recently with high-profile outbreaks of diseases such as measles.
We have many, many more public health materials in our collections. The great news is that our LSTA grant project, Public Health in Oregon: Accessing Historical Data for Scientific Discovery (which Maija wrote about in October), will make these materials more useful and accessible for research! This project is just getting started, but everyone here at HC&A is quite excited about all of the possibilities it offers. Happy National Public Health Week to us, and to all!