Monday, December 31, 2012


Smallpox? Really? Didn't we "eradicate" the historic Number 1 killer of humans?

Perhaps smallpox has been under control for the last few generations. However, vaccinations are no longer given, and there are still small stores of the virus in existence. Who knows whether this dreaded disease will ever rear its ugly head again?

There is no cure for smallpox. Vaccination has been the most effective route towards destroying the grip that this disease held on humanity for centuries.

Ironically, I have come across a reference that indicates that vaccinations were taking place in the Deitscherei before the formal vaccine came into being. According to a footnote on page 97 of Thomas R. Brendle's and Claude W. Unger's Folk Medicine of the Pennsylvania Germans: The Non-Occult Cures (Pennsylvania German Society, 1935), "vaccination was practiced by the brilliant, though erratic preacher and doctor, Rev. Henry Stoy."

Stoy was a preacher at St. Paul's Reformed (now UCC) in Millbach (Lebanon County, PA) in the 1750's. Thus, it is possible that the practice of vaccination (perhaps, more correctly, "inoculation") through limited, controlled exposure was in use among the Deitsch prior to Edward Jenner's publications in 1796 regarding cowpox infection leading to smallpox immunity among milkmaids. This, of course, is speculation. Hopefully someone else will have more detailed information on this interesting piece of Deitsch history.

Smallpox is known in Deitsch as "die Parble." This is a plural noun and is pronounced like "PAR-pleh," with a slight trill of the tongue on the "R." The singular ("pock") would be "es Parbel" ("PAR-pel") though northern Deitsch variants would almost certainly say, "Parwel" ("PAR-vel").

The word for the verb "inoculate" is "bleedle" ("PLAYD-leh"), though that usage is more commonly applied to plants or trees. The verb for "vaccinate" is "blanze" ("BLAHN-tseh"), which literally means "to plant." The name for the smallpox vaccination is "die Parbleblanz" ("PAR-pleh-BLAH-nts"). To me, this term implies the purposeful planting of the disease, thus implying inoculation more than vaccination. However, the language has evolved its meaning to the latter.

Prior to the widespread distribution of the smallpox vaccine, the Deitsch would first attempt to prevent the contraction of the disease through carrying onion, garlic, sulfur, and/or Asafoetida (Ferula assa-foetida; Deitsch: der Deiwelsdreck) on the person. These items, which were also used as amulets against witchcraft, were thought both to absorb smallpox as well as to ward off the disease (Brendle and Unger 97). Children who contracted the disease wore Rue (Ruta graveolens; Deitsch: die Raude) on the bare skin (rue can cause dermatitis!) of the neck and rue and apostem herb were hung on the body to prevent blindness or visual impairment from the infection. Apostem herb is most likely either Boswellia (Boswellia serrata; Deitsch: der Weihrauchbaam) or Angelica (Angelica archangelica; Deitsch: die Engelwatzel).

To prevent scarring, live toads were boiled for an hour in olive oil (Deitsch: Baamolich). The oil was then strained and applied daily to the face of the infected individual (Brendle and Unger 97-98).

The preferred treatment during the Colonial Era was to take some fresh Alder (Alnus glutinosa; Deitsch: es Erlholz) bark chippings, to boil them in a cup of hogs' fat, to strain through a sack, and to apply the infused fat to the infection. The fat was also spread on bread and consumed as part of the attempt to eradicate the disease (Brendle and Unger 98).

Let us hope that we never have to put these practices to use again!

No comments:

Post a Comment