The Homoeopathic Domestic Physician (1858)
Constantine Hering, M.D.

Yellow Fever

As sure as the cholera will never pass a boundary line—sulphuretted hydrogen—or spread among people with sulphur in their stockings, so sure can it be said to Yellow Fever: "Thus far, and no farther!" But being a very different disease, it must be done in an entirely different way; sulphur would only promote the evil.

Just as I recommended Fear, Care and Sulphur in Asiatic Cholera, so I recommend Fright, Run and Charcoal in Yellow Fever.

Fright, because it would make people run away. Every one who can possibly go away ought to do so; the sooner the better; even the sick should be scattered, never crowded.

The Yellow Fever has always one or more central points whence it spreads around, and is always communicated by inhalation. The substance carrying the disease is of a gaseous nature, and it acts on others not only more or less according to their state of susceptibility, exactly as it is in all infective diseases, but this infective gaseous substance must be in a certain state of condensation; it acts not if much diluted, mixed with a large body of air.

In this respect the cause and carrier of Yellow Fever, the miasma, as it is called, differs from others; it is only similar to the miasma from swamps, causing intermittent fever, but this latter is confined to certain localities; it cannot be carried about from place to place, it cannot be spread by the sick and dead.

Single cases of Yellow Fever, scattered about particularly in a pure atmosphere, in an air higher, cooler and more in motion, will never spread the disease, and have never done so. Therefore, the sooner and wider apart the sick are scattered about, the sooner the whole epidemic will be over. If this scattering about is done before a "panic," as this disease of the mind is called, spreads about, it will not be opposed by ignorant, barbarous neighbors, as has been the case. To scatter the sick is like scattering a fire, which will soon die out if there is no accumulation of combustible matter. To recommend people to go away from the focus is like removing combustible matter from a store on fire, which ought to be done in time and regular order by an organized body. All those who are necessary to oversee and form this organized body should stay, all others go away.

I admire with all my heart the grandeur of mind, shown by the members of the Howard Association in facing the terrible enemy, assisting the sick; the clergymen who stood firmly on their post to console in that reign of terror; the statesmen who took the helm to prevent disorder and confusion; all of them sacrificing their own comforts, health, and risking their lives. I admire all but one class—the physicians of the old school. Although it was, as a matter of course, their plain duty to stay, it would have been much better for the sick, if they all had run away, following the example of their illustrious preceptor, Galen, who, as soon as an epidemic broke out, mounted his mule, and run away with his valuable boxes; his slave running after him as fast as only a slave can, who is running away.

What a display of wisdom and deep learning, to give calomel for no other reason than that the patients looked yellow, and because the liver ought to have something to do with it; for calomel acts, according to their most stupid superstition, on the liver!

As if every one, who recovered, would not certainly have done so much sooner and better without it.

To give quinine and fill the madhouses with idiots and fools, the almshouses with the blind, the deaf and the lame; all made artificially a burden to society by this same drug!

One of the most renowned physicians of the South came to Norfolk for the express purpose of advising his brother physicians to give nothing, no medicine whatever. He was truly a wise man, and an honest one.

The next thing to be done is to destroy the miasma on all points of generation, in each focus. The stagnant swamps along shore, the wharves, canals, &c., are out of the question in times of danger, and ought not to be touched; stirring them up would only increase the poison in the air; what should have been done in the fall and winter cannot be done in summer. But every ship with stinking bilge-water, or which had Yellow Fever or similar diseases on board, ought to be disinfected. It was one of the greatest absurdities of the old school to suppose that chloride of lime, which destroyed some other, entirely different, miasmas, would destroy that of Yellow Fever.

It is nothing but a remnant of the old superstitious times, when doctors were hunting for one antidote to all poisons, and when they tried to find a one remedy for all diseases. Every substance which is intended to destroy another, must have a chemical affinity for it. A few experiments would have convinced any one that chlorine mixes with the miasma without changing it in the least. It is the same with all other "fumigations," even the most ridiculous, fires in the streets!

But fire produces a substance which, as chemistry has known for nearly one hundred years, has the most peculiar property of absorbing gases,—it is the common charcoal. Experiments will prove to any one, what astonishing quantities of gases will be readily absorbed by a mere handful of charcoal—the more if it is crushed or coarsely powdered, as this gives it a larger surface. And, what is to be particularly remarked, gases of that class to which the miasma of Yellow Fever no doubt belongs, are by preference, as it were, and in larger quantities, absorbed by charcoal. A few bucketfuls of it will disinfect a whole ship, if thrown down into the bilge water, repeated, if necessary, until there is no longer any bad smell.

This has never been done, and why not? The little black particles of charcoal are rather difficult to get out again! That's all. The same objection to it we will find in hospitals and private sick rooms.

*Printed in " The Homoeopathic News," No. 7, October, 1855.

My first proposition, since 1853,* when I had the first chance of observing for myself cases of Yellow Fever, was to send shiploads of charcoal to all infected places, to disinfect all suspicious vessels with it thoroughly, to have it in every sick-room, to put it by handsful on all and everything which passes from a Yellow Fever patient, what he vomits, his urine, his stools, at once before they are carried away; his sheets and bed-clothes before they are washed. This should be done in all and every case, and the washerwomen would then not die of the disease, as they have done, even in Philadelphia, in 1853. But it would, of course, require a great deal more water and work to remove all the little black spots from the linen.

Above all others, it should be the most peremptory rule to cover all corpses, without exception, and fill up the coffins with it, as the corpses produce the poisonous gas, and spread the disease more than anything else. By comparing the maps of the towns, and the local history of the epidemics, I found that the course of the fever was not so much in the direction of the prevailing winds, sometimes even against them, but always towards the burying-grounds, and principally along the streets through which the dead were carried,—the fever followed the dead.

As this use of charcoal should be ordered and enforced by the authorities—for the general application only can produce a perceptible result—let the following experiment be made in a public place, which will convince every one of the great usefulness of charcoal:

Put a dead rat into a small wooden box, upon a layer of charcoal about three inches thick, fill the box so that there are about six inches of charcoal over the rat. Every one knows what a terrible stench will come in due time from a dead rat. Place this box upon the main table of the council room, and let every one of the rulers of the town take a smell at it every day. If they should perceive more than the common cellar air, they have only to change the upper layer of charcoal, and all the smell will have gone in a few minutes. The rat may rot in a parlor without anybody perceiving it. In a few weeks nothing but skin, hair, sinews and bones will be left.

If a grave had been filled with charcoal, at least three to four feet high, it might be opened afterwards without any danger. A corpse, in a hermetically closed coffin, surrounded with charcoal two feet thick, might be transported without danger to any place.

But "let the dead bury the dead;" the most important result of such a rule, strictly carried out, would be the cessation of the fever in a very short time. All this, however, is independent of the treatment of the sick; but if, in addition to it, all cases were treated homoeopathically, the good results would in a single week be perceived by all. It happens, not accidentally of course, but according to a law of nature, that what is the true chemical antidote, is also the best preventive and remedy, if taken internally, or the chemical is analogous to the dynamical. It happens, that among the symptoms of Carbo vegetabilis, as collected by Hahnemann, we find a true and most striking similarity of the same group of symptoms which characterize Yellow Fever. It must be left to the scientific part of the physicians to examine this thesis, it is not for everybody.

The best preventive is Carbo vegetabilis in homoeopathic preparations. The degree of attenuation, and the repetition, do not seem to be matters of much importance; time and careful observations will show. But if given at the very first, it may be sufficient. One dose of the highest dilution has been sufficient in several cases. A patient who had already, on the first day, bleeding of the gums, got well by taking the third trituration every six to eight hours, for a few days.

During the state of the greatest alarm, fatigue and exhaustion, many homoeopathic physicians have given Aconitum and Belladonna, even in alternation; I cannot find a sufficient similarity neither with the one nor the other. Still the reports are a great deal more favorable than those of the alloeopathists would be, because the latter always kill more than they cure.

If the homoeopathic physicians were governed, from the very commencement of the epidemic, by the law of similarity, and find, according to Hahnemann's rule in the Organon, §100-102, the medicines most corresponding with the character of the epidemic, which may change and will differ in different places, at different seasons and years, the results ought to be by far more favorable and striking than they have been hitherto.

Every one who cannot observe Hahnemann's rule, should commence with Carbo vegetabilis, which will act as a basis, after which all other medicines have a better effect. If alarming symptoms appear sometimes after it, another medicine may be given.

Aconitum, for a dry skin, hot fever, with great agony and restlessness.

Belladonna, rush of blood to the head or chest, when moving increases the symptoms.

Lachesis (or, according to several reports, Crotalus), in the low, sinking state.

Arnica, if the patient lies in a kind of stupor, with bad smell from the mouth; if he answers, when asked how he was, that he feels well.

Arsenicum, for great agony and burning pains; if not sufficient, Cantharides in water.