Saturday, June 2, 2012

Louise and The Last Yellow Fever Outbreak, New Orleans 1905

It is nearly summer and  in the not so distant past that meant yellow fever. People were so afraid of an epidemic that they would close up their houses and move somewhere else for the summer. Well, those that could afford to. Biloxi, Ms and Bay St. Louis, Ms became the summer resorts for those escaping the heat, and fear of the fever. 

Transmitted by the mosquito, which are plentiful in the humid southern gulf region, the virus attacks the liver causing the yellow or jaundice of the persons skin. The symptoms are headaches, muscle pain, fever, loss of appetite, vomiting, and dizziness. Many were unfortunate and the virus progressed to the point of organ failure, which leads to death. The lucky ones to make it through the ravages of yellow fever were immune for life.

The last yellow fever outbreak was in New Orleans during the summer of 1905. 452 people died that summer. One of them was Louise Delherbe.

My grandmother never knew exactly what happened to her Aunt Louise Delherbe. Just that she died young, maybe from cholera, or scarlet fever. Louise was only 22 years old. A stenographer for the L&N Railroad. She never had a chance at life, no marriage, never knowing her nieces or nephews.

The 1905 epidemic began in June with Italian immigrants who were working at the docks unloading bananas.  The Italians were the first of those infected and the virus quickly spread throughout the city. By August orders came from the government to fumigate the city and close all open water sources. Residents were fined heavily if they did not comply.

One of the many infected streets was the one where Louise Delherbe lived with her family in the historic French Quarter, not far from the river itself.

In September 1905 the newspaper, The Times Picayune, tried to quell the public's panic by writing an article stating that the situation was not near as dire as some were making it out to be. It was no worse than any other outbreak in the past, and the city had not come to a standstill as was being reported in New York papers. 

By October 1905 the Times Picayune was reporting that, "Yellow Jack's backbone had been broken with only new 30 cases being reported."

The mosquito was to blame, and finally many were taking the threat from them seriously. With the control of the cities water sources and sanitation came the relief from the scourge of the dreaded Yellow Jack.

Fast forward 100 years, to a family researcher digging through vast amounts of old news articles. She reads with interest an article from The San Antonio Express, September 1905, regarding the yellow fever epidemic in New Orleans. The paper stated four deaths and 42 new cases reported. It goes on to list the names of those who have died. On this list is one Louise J. Delherbe.

So the mystery of the early death of Aunt Louise was solved. She must have been a beloved daughter and sister. Her obituary was written by her brother Joseph Delherbe. It was filled with expressions of love and pain at the loss of his beloved sibling.

One family tragedy, only one to name, to the thousand of others who were stricken by yellow fever in the years before 1905.

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