What was it like to die of Diphtheria in those days? One of every ten children infected died from this disease sometimes called “Boulogne sore throat”. Symptoms ranged from severe sore throat to suffocation due to a ‘false membrane’ covering the larynx. Until treatment became widely available in the 1920s, the public viewed this disease as a death sentence.
Diphtheria vaccination first appeared in the 1890s, but only became widely used in the 1920s. During this interval medical scientists labored to create a safe and effective vaccine. Antitoxin introduced in 1890 provided immunity for only two weeks. Six years later, the toxin-antitoxin mixture came into general use, providing life-long immunity. Doctors used horses to generate this antitoxin serum. Thirty years after diphtheria antitoxin first became available, Béla Schick introduced the Schick test, a cutaneous test showing if a person needed immunization. This allowed for the use of toxin-antitoxin to become widespread.
The toxin-antitoxin mixture, for all its promise, posed significant risks because it involved injecting live toxin. In 1924, Gaston Ramon developed the toxoid, a neutralized form of the toxin that would still impart permanent immunity. The toxoid-antitoxin mixtures eventually developed into the TDAP vaccine that is still in use today.
One way to help patients was removing pseudomembranes from throat by sucking through a tube or pipe. This procedure could lead to occupationally acquired infection, as seen in cases from the 1900th century presented here.
In 1860s, a child was brought to a local infirmary where Professor Syme had first performed tracheostomy. However, the ‘poisonous stuff had accumulated so much’, the child died. In 1890, it was discovered that serum made from the blood of immunized animals contained an “antitoxin” which, when injected, cured patients suffering from diphtheria.
Today, the building is abandoned by the living – but certainly not the dead! Considered a paranormal hotspot by ghost-hunting experts, there are many stories of disembodied children’s voices crying, sounds of clanging and abuse, not to mention the spirits of angry nuns and a fearful young mother. Click here