Popular Science Monthly/Volume 62/April 1903/The Relation of Malaria to Agriculture and Other Industries of the South

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Popular Science Monthly Volume 62 April 1903 (1903)
The Relation of Malaria to Agriculture and Other Industries of the South by Glenn Washington Herrick
1413622Popular Science Monthly Volume 62 April 1903 — The Relation of Malaria to Agriculture and Other Industries of the South1903Glenn Washington Herrick


By Professor GLENN W. HERRICK,


IN a paper on 'Measures for the Decrease of Malaria in the South', read in Nashville, Tenn., in August of the past summer before the Southern Commissioners of Agriculture, I very briefly called attention to the important rôle of malaria in agriculture. It was an inadequate attempt to demonstrate the practical bearing of this disease upon the wealth-producing powers of a commonwealth, with the hope that it might prove an added inducement for putting into practice the measures which had been recommended for the decrease of malaria. For to induce a people to use a remedy it must first be shown that a remedy is very much needed. We trust that this further treatment of the same question will result in more widespread and serious discussions and investigations of the profound influence of this most insidious disease upon the industries and wealth-producing powers of the southern people.

The south as a whole has given little thought to the tremendous role malaria plays in her industries, especially in agriculture. We have no idea of the loss occasioned by malaria in unfitting men for long or energetic hours of labor. The loss of energy and enthusiasm, the loss of interest in one's own efforts and successes, all of which contribute enormously to the inefficiency of labor and cause the wealth producing power, especially in agriculture, to fall far short of its normal capacity, is due in a marvelous and undreamed of degree to that life-sapping disease, malaria. The man that is just able to 'crawl out of bed and drag around' is certainly not the man to accomplish an efficient and full day's labor. Because a man is at work is not necessarily a proof that he is actually adding to the sum total of his own wealth or to that of the state, and in a lesser degree does it prove that he is adding to the sum total of wealth, all of which he is capable. A man's general state of health has quite as much relation to his producing powers as the amount and kind of food he eats. And certainly there is no disease known to man that more insidiously undermines his constitution and lessens his ability to produce his full measure of wealth than malaria. Moreover, looking at malaria from another point of view, namely its relation to other diseases, let us hear what the eminent Dr. Patrick Manson, of England, says. In speaking of the importance of our knowledge concerning the relation of quitoes to malaria he says: 'This is a piece of knowledge of the utmost importance to mankind, for we know that malarial disease in tropical countries. . . causes more deaths and more disposition to death by inducing cachectic states, predisposing to other affections than all the other parasites affecting mankind together.' The italics are our own. This is a most startling statement to the ordinary layman, yet it comes from one who knows whereof he speaks.

Celli, the celebrated Italian authority on malaria, tells us that the mean mortality statistics give about 15,000 deaths yearly from malaria in Italy. He further says that, "calculating from the number of deaths the number of patients, we arrive approximately at about two million cases a year." "The loss of labor and of production, and the expenses entailed in dealing with this disease consequently amount to several millions of francs." About five million acres of land go uncultivated or very improperly cultivated, which represents an enormous loss. One railway company spends on account of malaria one million fifty thousand francs ($200,000) a year. He sums up by saying, 'one can positively assert that malaria annually costs Italy incalculable treasure.'

Our own statistics on malaria are meager and not so clear cut as one could wish. Yet the figures of the twelfth and last census which is just now appearing are enlightening, as the following table taken from that census will show. I have selected the six diseases that cause the most deaths in the states considered. There are no other diseases that approach near enough to these in their death rate to demand serious consideration or comparison.

Number of Deaths for Year ending May 31, 1900.

Total. Consump
Typhoid. Dys
Louisiana 20,955 2,016 1,149 1,945 1,077 385 1,030
Mississippi 20,251 2,129 876 2,168 1,370 380 983
Alabama 25,699 2,666 1,111 2,459 1,713 864 1,005
Georgia 26,941 2,651 1,350 2,598 1,585 781 1,011
South Carolina 17,166 2,133 843 1,324 970 578 749

It must be borne in mind that these figures concern only those deaths that were reported. Scores of deaths occurred in these states that were never reported. But it no doubt is safe to assume that the deaths from one disease were reported as fully as those from another, hence we can with fairness use these figures for making comparisons.

In the first place then, considering malaria by itself in relation to the total number of deaths in each of the five states mentioned, we find the following generalizations to be true. The total number of deaths in Louisiana for the year ending May 31, 1900, was 20,955, of which 1,030 or very nearly one twentieth were from malaria fevers. In Mississippi for the same year there were 20,251 deaths, of which 983 or a trifle less than one twentieth were from malaria fevers. In Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina, taking these three states as a whole, a trifle less than one twenty-fifth of the whole number of deaths was due to malaria. Evidently then malaria is responsible for a surprisingly large part of the whole number of deaths in these five states.

But there is another and much more significant fact to be drawn from the afore-mentioned table. It is seen that, in general, consumption, heart disease, pneumonia and typhoid fever caused more deaths than malaria and these were the only diseases that did. But these diseases are much more fatal than malaria. That is, where one person sick with either of these four diseases recovers, dozens are sick with malarial chills and fevers and recover. In other words, malaria causes much more sickness than any one or all of those four diseases rolled in one. Taking Celli's own basis of estimate, we shall find that there were in the five states mentioned, approximately 635,000 cases of malaria in the year ending May 31, 1900, a factor truly appalling in its influence against the wealth-producing power of a people.

Again we must just here take into consideration the fact that the census figures do not give an accurate and full report of all the deaths by malaria. This is an important point because where one death from malaria is not taken into account a dozen or more cases of sickness from chills and fevers are not accounted for, whereas when one death by consumption is not reported, it is simply one death not reported and nothing more. The same is largely true of the other three diseases used in our comparison. There is not a doubt that the cases of sickness as a result of malaria would easily number a round million could we obtain full and accurate reports.

Finally by taking all the foregoing facts and deductions into consideration, we are forced to but one rather startling conclusion, namely, that malaria is responsible for more sickness among the white population of the south than any disease to which it is now subject.

We must now consider briefly what six hundred and thirty-five thousand or a million cases of chills and fevers in one year mean. It is a self-evident truth that it means well for the physicians. But for laboring men it means an immense loss of their time together with the doctor's fees in many instances. If members of their families other than themselves be affected it may also mean a loss of time together with the doctor's fees. For the employer it means the loss of labor at a time perhaps when it would be of greatest value. If it does not mean the actual loss of labor to the employer, it will mean a loss in the efficiency of his labor. To the farmers it may mean the loss of their crops by want of cultivation. It will always mean the non-cultivation or improper cultivation of thousands of acres of valuable land. It means a listless activity in the world's work that counts mightily against the wealth-producing power of a people. Finally, it means from two to five million or more days of sickness, with all its attendant distress, pain of body and mental depression to some unfortunate individuals of those five states.

While the above statistics are meager and inconclusive, and while our estimates may be open to question, yet we may be sure that malaria detracts enormously from the full wealth-producing power of the south. To substantiate this statement one has but to reflect, from his own personal knowledge, upon the number of working days that are lost in a year by white men because of chills and fevers. The writer recalls to mind many such cases within the year. Only the past summer I saw a whole family forced to leave a farm on account of malaria. While living there some one or all of them were sick the major portion of the time, and although the farm was a productive one they were scarcely able to make a living, because of their unfitness for work. In a certain railroad town with which I am familiar it is invariably the rule that some employee is 'laying off' because of chills and fever or because of some indisposition at the bottom of which is malaria.

In my summer vacation which was spent in North Carolina I had an opportunity of observing a laboring man and his family that lived near a brook in the quiet pools of which were the malarial mosquitoes, Anopheles. During my sojourn of about three weeks the head of the family 'laid off' four days from chills and fevers, and no doubt he has lost many days since during the autumn. He is a man with a delicate, pale skin and, while conversing with him, I have noted as many as two Anopheles mosquitoes on one hand at the same time. The question has often occurred to me since, whether these mosquitoes prefer to attack people with delicate skin. My own face and hands were not troubled by them, although we stood within hand-shaking distance of each other and the mosquitoes were fairly abundant. The mother and children of the family were great sufferers from malaria, especially the former, on account of which much of their earnings was used to pay doctor's fees.

In looking for a concrete effect of malaria upon agriculture, we have only to turn our attention to one of the most fertile regions of the United States if not of the world, namely, the so-called Delta region of Mississippi. It lies along the Mississippi River in the western part of the state and extends from the mouth of the Yazoo River north, nearly to the Tennessee line. It is the second best farming land in the world, having only one rival, and that is the valley of the Nile. Still this land to-day, at least much of it, can be bought at ten to twenty dollars an acre. Thousands of acres in this region are still covered with the primeval forest, and the bears and deer still roaming there offer splendid opportunities for the chase, as evidenced by the late visit of our chief executive to those regions for the purpose of hunting. Why is not this land thickly settled and why is it not worth from two to five hundred dollars an acre? If it produces from one to two or more bales of cotton on an acre, and it does, it ought to be worth the above named figures. A bale of cotton to the acre can be produced for thirteen dollars, leaving a net profit of twenty to forty dollars for each bale or forty to eighty or more dollars for each acre of land cultivated. Moreover, this land has been doing that for years and will do it for years to come without the addition of one dollar's worth of fertilizer. Land that will produce a net profit of forty to eighty dollars an acre is a splendid investment at one, two or even three hundred dollars an acre. Yet this land does not sell in the market for anything like so much, because the demand is not sufficient, for white people positively object to living in the 'Delta' on account of malarial chills and fevers. A man said to me not long ago that he would go to the 'Delta' that day if he were sure that his own life or the lives of the members of his family would not be shortened thereby. There are thousands exactly like him, and the only reason that these thousands do not go there to buy lands and make homes is on account of chills and fevers. But there is a time coming, and that not far distant, when malaria in the 'Delta' will not menace the would-be inhabitants. When that time comes it will be the richest and most populous region in the United States.

There can be no doubt that many people are kept away from the sunny southern skies because of the dangers of malaria, sometimes fancied 'tis true, but quite as often real. It behooves us to remove this danger entirely. 1 feel sure the day is soon coming when chills and fevers will have lost their terrors because we shall surely learn how to avoid them. It is most propitious that these wonderful discoveries in regard to malaria and yellow fever were made on the eve of the south 's great awakening along industrial and educational lines.

If the experiments of Ross, Manson, Celli, Sambon, Low and others demonstrate that malaria can be avoided; and if the experiments of Carroll, Reed, Lazear and Agramonte demonstrate that quarantine and fumigation are useless and that yellow fever can be controlled by controlling mosquitoes or by keeping inside of a wire screen out of their way, then I venture to predict that those experiments will go down in the annals of the south as the most important of the nineteenth century.