By Kris Leonhardt
Smallpox entered the United States with the arrival of the Spanish and Portuguese conquistadors. For many years, the developing country had no medically-proven means to fight off the disease; until the late 1700s when a vaccine was finally developed.
By injecting a form of the disease into the body, smallpox would be warded off in any form. Through the use of quarantines and vaccines the country fought the disease, which arrived in two forms: mild and severe, with the most severe form resulting in a 30 percent mortality rate.
Even with medical intervention and public education, America could not fully get a grip on the disease.
In its earliest stages, the disease was unrecognizable as a high fever. When a deadly sickness followed the fever, only then did the public raise the alarm.
In the late 1800’s a strain popped up in the Northern logging camps of Wisconsin. The Plover area had not seen a strain of the disease since 1862, when a dozen cases had resulted from a single household. In this case no deaths had occurred and the infected house near the Wisconsin River had subsequently been burned down as a precaution.
More than 30 years later, it became painfully clear that this would not be the last Plover would see of the deadly and disfiguring disease. On a Sunday morning in April of 1895, alarmed residents scurried about spreading the word that another case had been discovered.
John Green, who had not been feeling well for nearly a week had been attended by Dr. Gregory that very morning. During the doctor’s visit it was discovered that Green had contracted smallpox.
What made matters worse is that Green had been out in the public much of that week interacting with friends, family, and neighbors. Had it not been for one observant neighbor familiar with the disease, it may have taken much longer to be exposed.
With Dr. Gregory diagnosis of Stage 2 smallpox, Plover’s local Board of Health was set into action. The committee, consisting of H.H. Moore, Truman Rice, and A. Maxfield, quarantined the house and premises and fenced off the road on both sides, ordering both Green and his new bride to stay in its confines.
After further investigation, it was learned that Green’s wife of just a few months had been exposed to the disease while working in the paper mill (a position she left after her marriage to Green). As the disease was in its mildest form it had not been detected until she had passed it on to her husband.
The Plover area became increasingly alarmed when Green’s two younger brothers, one 20 years of age and the other just six, were diagnosed with the disease.
Alarm gave way to anger when the boys’ mother was seen out in public. Officials warned Mrs. Green on the consequences of her actions and demanded that she remained quarantined with the others.
Though the strain would later be eradicated, this would not be the end of smallpox in the Northwoods, as the country struggled to get a hold on the beastly condition.
Some 200 hundred years after the invention of the smallpox vaccine, the United States would finally get a handle on the disease. In May of 1980, the World Health Organization announced the eradication of the small pox disease.
Kris Leonhardt may be reached at email@example.com.