Popular Science Monthly/Volume 79/August 1911/The Typhoid Fly on the Minnesota Iron Range

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By Professor F. L. WASHBURN


TOWARD the northern part of Minnesota, running from a point near Coleraine and Hibbing on the west to Ely on the east, is a low ridge of land, on an average about 1,200 feet above seal level, known, as most of you are aware, as the Minnesota Iron Range. It is not out of place to say that the industries associated with iron mining on this range give employment to over 200,000 people, all told, and of this number about 16,000, represented by Finns, Austrians (in the broadest sense of that term), Italians and a few Swedes, labor day and night to bring to the surface and send to Duluth, in carloads, the iron ore which enriches the coffers of the United States Steel Company. These latter are the miners, the actual workers with pick and shovel, and it is of these and their environment, and their relations to the common house fly of which we wish to speak.

I used the expression "bring to the surface." Let me hasten to say that a very large proportion of this mining is surface mining, and the mines are, for the most part, particularly in the Hibbing district, huge open valleys, made by stripping the surface covering the ore for a depth varying from fourteen to one hundred and fifty feet. Below this stripping there may be anywhere from fifty to two hundred feet of ore, and the removal of this, and the strippings, leaves enormous holes, resembling huge craters of extinct volcanoes. So deep are some of these artificial canyons, and so tremendous the mountainous piles of gravel and sand which constitute the strippings, that the entire topography of that part of the country is being strikingly changed, and one would imagine the phenomenon there observed to be the result of a mighty convulsion, or of several convulsions of the earth's crust, did lie not see, far below him, as he stands on the edge of one of these mines, countless men at work, and busy engines, steam shovels and trains of ore cars running on temporary tracks, either carrying off the strippings, or bringing up the precious ore, which is soon speeding on its way to Duluth.

I have emphasized the fact of the existence of open mines in order to make it clear that these men are working in the open air, and under conditions which should be, other things being equal, in the highest
Dairy Barn—16 cows. Dung heap was removed the day before, leaving the entrance in the condition shown. An out-house is shown at the rear.

degree hygienic. The miners live in various localities; some in cheap boarding houses in the towns in the neighborhood of the mines, some in settlements or "locations," as they are called, smaller aggregations of dwellings, small villages, as it were, situated close to an open mine or shaft. Some live in camps—clusters of buildings of a much poorer sort than those alluded to above, more or less temporary in character and also located near the mines. Of these miners the Finns are by far the most cleanly and the most stable; almost all of the married miners are to be found in their ranks. The Austrians, by far outnumbering the other races, for the most part pass in and out of the country as chance dictates, and their domestic habits and the environment which they tolerate are so filthy as to lead one to suppose that they, above all others, would be the worst sufferers from typhoid. The Italians, more numerous than the Finns, less so than the Austrians, appear to vie with the latter in the matter of negligence of their surroundings. The Swedes, industrious and cleanly, are so few in number (less than 700 on the entire range in 1907) that we might practically disregard them in this discussion were it not for the fact that they suffered to some extent from typhoid in a recent epidemic, and for a reason to be explained later.

Now, in illustrating conditions which prevail in one portion of the Iron Range, we are depicting conditions which are found practically over its entire length, and if the name of any town is mentioned, and pictures thrown on the screen illustrating unhygienic conditions in connection with any town or towns, it must be borne in mind that these are not the only towns, and the Iron Range not the only locality in Minnesota where conditions favorable for a typhoid epidemic exist.

The above-named aliens, who work with pick and shovel, are low in the social scale, most of them densely ignorant, the greater number of extremely unclean habits, fatalistic in their views, and more or less suspicious of well-meant overtures. The workmen in the employ of the stripping companies, firms who contract with the mining companies to remove the soil covering the ore, are composed of the same nationalities as those employed by the latter companies, and live in much the same conditions.

A manager of one of the stripping companies remarked, speaking of the Austrians, that they would not raise a hand to clean their houses or other surroundings; they will submit to having it done for them by the company, but soon revert to the more primitive and, to them, more pleasant state.

The Austrians, as the term is broadly used on the range, including the Hungarians and people coming from the small principalities in and

Same Barn as preceding Figure, showing the unsanitary condition of the entrance. The photographer endeavored to wade the manure holes and sunk to his knees in the water and manure.

about Austria and Hungary, are locally called "Hunyaks" and the Italians "Dagoes." A "white" in range parlance, is a Swede or any one of the higher class of laborers who works steadily at his job. The employees in the offices of the mining companies, as well as the citizens generally, fall under the latter appellation. It is doubtful if the European homes of these people, almost the only people evidently who are attracted, at present, to this class of work, are as filthy as the conditions with which they are surrounded here, conditions which are a menace to the health of any community.

Creek where Sewage Empties.

We find, on the range, houses, boarding houses and others, swarming with flies. We find garbage cans, old, dirty stables sheltering miserable cows and horses, with the accompanying manure pile, and the dangerous open privy close to dwellings; dish water and other filth deposited in close proximity to wells, dairies that are unholy, so horrible are the conditions of their environment; sidewalks covered with the expectorations of all sorts and conditions of men, through which and over which filth walk hordes of flies in summer and early fall; alleys there are, too, the filth in which can hardly be described. Last, but by no means least, we note absence of screens in the windows and doors of dwelling houses, or, if there are any screens at all in a house, the good they might do is nullified by the presence of other screenless windows or screenless doors in the same building. Add to these conditions dense ignorance on matters of hygiene, indifference and intolerance of being interfered with, together with the fatalistic spirit above referred to, and one realizes that conditions there are almost always ripe for an epidemic.

It is hardly necessary to dwell at length on the house fly, now known as the typhoid fly, as a factor in the spread of the disease from which it is named. The excellent work of Dr. Howard along these lines, as well as later investigations, has placed the responsibility of one means of dissemination of typhoid where it belongs, and, as you well know, although we should still have typhoid if the house fly did not exist, and in spite of the fact that other insects may well carry the germ, the house fly is so evidently the chief offender that the name, "typhoid fly," is a very proper one to call attention to the danger of its presence.

In the eighties the possibility of flies carrying disease germs was called to the attention of physicians and the public. In 1898 we find what is perhaps the first reference to observations on the house fly's frequenting typhoid excreta, and thence flying to food, and the statement that bacterial cultures were obtained from both fly tracks and fly specks. Closely following this, in 1899, came the outbreak of typhoid amongst our soldiers in camp at Porto Principe, and Major Reed's report to the War Department that the epidemic was due to flies. The public then began to turn its serious attention toward the fly question. In 1900 Howard's article, published in the Proceedings of the Washington Academy of Sciences, on "A Contribution to the Study of the Insect Fauna of Human Excrement," further emphasized the great danger from the presence of flies in the household, and, as the house fly is the most common fly in that locality, designated that insect especially as an enemy to health. Work of different observers along these lines followed rapidly enough, every year showing additions to the evidence against this common insect, and the campaign against it was inaugurated, but it was not until recently that, as significant of its habits, and in order to help in this battle, the name of "typhoid fly" was suggested and adopted by entomologists.

We know that it may carry typhoid germs on its feet, on the hairs over its body, and in its alimentary canal and that these germs may live and be potent for some time even after having passed through its intestine. We know, in view of recent work, that this fly not only breeds in horse manure, but also in human excrement and other forms of filth, and it is a matter of common observation that this insect frequents all kinds of pollution from which it may carry disease germs to human food. You will readily see then, from the description of the domestic conditions prevailing amongst the miners on the Iron Range,

Milk House, showing the close proximity of a privy which was open to flies. The privy is the shed just behind the horse. The horse is standing in the drain from milk house, which was being used as a wallowing place for pigs.

a description not at all exaggerated, that the opportunities for a siege of typhoid during the months that this fly is abundant with us are most excellent. These conditions were found on the occasion of a visit to the range in the early part of last September, the trip being taken at the invitation of a member of the state board of health, who was anxious to have it made clear just how far the house fly was responsible for the epidemic.

We were told that the flies were more abundant than usual this year, the accuracy of which statement is open to doubt, for it is possible that observations in two successive seasons were made at different dates, flies naturally being more abundant in early September than in July. We believe, too, that the prevailing dryness this year may have caused the flies to congregate in larger numbers in the mining settlements where they found an abundance of moisture and filth as well. In this connection it may be said that, in riding over the range in an automobile at that time of the year, it was perfectly possible to realize that we were approaching a settlement, some time before it came in view by the odor wafted to our nostrils. Now, flies are gifted with a keen sense of smell, and it is a perfectly natural supposition that they are attracted from quite a distance, just as we were repelled, and that gathering in these somewhat circumscribed settlements or "locations," they gave the impression that they were more numerous this year than last. In the sense that their numbers were more concentrated, owing to the limitation of moisture—a prime necessity in the life of a fly—this is probably true.

It may be of interest to consider some statistics, showing to what enormous numbers the descendants of one fly may reach in the course of a summer. As most of you are aware, the eggs of a house fly hatch in from approximately six to twelve hours, and the maggots issuing therefrom reach their full size in from four to seven days. The outer layers of their body then harden and turn brown, forming the puparium, while the parts within become what is known as the pupa. The duration of the pupal stage is from five to seven days, at the expiration of which time the adult emerges as a perfect fly. The life of the house fly then occupies from ten to twelve days, and there may be from ten to thirteen or more generations in a summer, depending upon the character of the season and on the latitude. Of the length of life of the adult we can not speak with certainty, for the only way this could be determined is by confining the insects, and when this is done, conditions of existence are so unnatural that observations upon this point are not reliable. A female house fly which has hibernated

The Unsanitary Condition of the Rear End of a Restaurant off from an Alley.

in a dwelling house, or elsewhere, may produce in the spring, at the lowest estimate, one hundred and twenty eggs. Assuming that one An Alley near the Main Street of the Town. half of these hatch as females, and allowing that the breeding goes on without check for four months, we have as the descendants of a single hibernating individual 214,557,844,320,000,000,000,000 flies. Now, a house fly measures exactly one fourth of an inch in length; the distance around the earth at the equator is said to be 24,800 miles. It would take, therefore 3,688,312,000 flies placed end to end to go around the world once. Using this number as a denominator, and the number of flies produced in four months from one mother as a numerator, we find she will give rise, in the course of a summer, to enough flies to encircle the globe at the equator five thousand times, and have plenty of progeny to spare!

In considering the relation of the house fly to typhoid, the question Virginia, Min. In an out-house in the background the excreta from a typhoid patient were deposited. The water in this pond was used at that time by some of the neighbors for washing. as to how far a fly can travel may suggest itself as an important factor, as, indeed, it is. We can not speak definitely as to how far a house fly can go by its own unaided effort. It is evident, however, that by making a series of flights this insect could cover a considerable distance. It does not, however, have to depend upon its own powers for getting from place to place; railroad and street cars, carriages and automobiles, provision wagons, meat carts, horses, cows and other animals all do their part in carrying this pest free of charge.

Turning once more to the consideration of conditions on the Iron Range we should naturally expect to have found typhoid most rampant among the most filthy of the three nations represented, but, strangely enough, such was not the case, for the Finns, the most cleanly of all, were the chief sufferers, not the Italians nor the Austrians. It is regarded as highly probable that this is due to the fact that the Finns lunch frequently during the day on cold food constantly exposed on their tables, while the Italians have three hot meals, and the Austrians also eat hot, recently cooked food. The Austrians and the Italians, I am told, use but little milk, and the Italians are great beer drinkers. The Swedes, like the Finns, have the same habit of eating cold food, and they, too, suffered from typhoid.

Is it any wonder, in view of the proximity of fever, filth and food, which I have tried to describe as existing there, and which the pictures shortly to be shown on the screen will still further illustrate, that the difficulties presented to the state board of health in combating the disease are very hard to overcome. I beg leave, however, to again remind you that the conditions which are pictured are such as might occur in any mining district where education did not have a constantly controlling influence.

I have already spoken of the foul smells emanating from some of the camps, and also from some of the locations. We found that in one or two of the camps where there was a breeze there were fewer flies than in others not so situated. But it should be borne in mind that a very few flies, if conditions are right, may be the cause of several cases of typhoid in a locality, and, conversely, the presence of hordes of flies would not necessarily mean typhoid when other conditions were unfavorable for this disease. We visited two or three or more miners' boarding houses where there were either cases of typhoid at the time of our visit, or from which typhoid patients had but recently been removed. The landlady in practically each case not only took care of the patient until he could be given a bed at the hospital, if indeed he were fortunate enough to secure entrance there, but also cooked for her boarders. Almost invariably in every such case we found the open privy, and windows more or less innocent of screens. At one such place visited, the conscientious housewife pointed proudly to her table, which was. with its burden of cold food, covered with netting, as she hastened to explain, to show her intelligence in this particular, "Oh yes, we always screen our table here." But here, and in many other similar situations, the flies were under the netting, crawling in large numbers over crackers, cakes and other so-called eatables, which many of these people keep on their tables all the time. At a house which contained a typhoid sufferer, the privy which received the refuse from the sick room was on the bank of a lake or pond, and this pond furnished water for washing to at least one family in the immediate vicinity. At one location visited there had been a case of typhoid in a house adjoining a dairy where about twelve cows were kept. The doctors accompanying us were known to the people, and one was asked to look
Austrian Bedroom.

at the dairyman's wife, who was "ailing." He diagnosed the case immediately as incipient typhoid, and the milk man, whose milk house, by the way, was quite a fly trap, was told that he must take his wife immediately to a hospital at Hibbing or elsewhere, or stop doing business. He chose the former alternative. This case is mentioned as showing the need of constant, intelligent supervision of these people on the part of conscientous experts. Why more of them do not die of typhoid, under existing conditions, is a wonder! The same kindly providence which keeps an intoxicated man from harm must be caring for them in their blind ignorance!

The epidemic of typhoid last summer, at Hibbing, at least, did not originate in the water. Nor could we trace the disease along any milk route, in spite of the filthy conditions in connection with dairies. It is interesting to conjecture at this point just how dangerous it is to eat dry food contaminated with typhoid germs from a fly's body. Moist food, of course, so impregnated, would, in the majority of cases, be far more dangerous, and of all the moist foods, milk is perhaps one of the best culture fluids for these germs. It is not improbable, then, that although, by some lucky accident, typhoid did not originate in the dairies themselves, and the milk was brought to the consumer in a fairly good condition, it was there, in the house, in many cases, inoculated by filthy flies, and the numbers of the deadly bacilli tremendously increased.

Among other circumstances favorable for an epidemic at Hibbing, we must not forget to mention the fact that the city sewer, receiving the refuse from this town of about 12,000 or more people, empties into an open creek not more than half a mile from the city. This creek is crossed by two or more bridges, over which delivery wagons pass many times a day to outlying towns. We stopped our carriage at one of these bridges, and watched the slowly moving filth for a short time, noting, upon driving to town, that we brought from that locality many flies upon the vehicle we occupied. Multiply this incident by a hundred and you have an idea of the many daily opportunities presented to flies for reaching the various towns in the vicinity.

This siege of typhoid had been preceded by one of dysentery earlier in the season, but this first appearance of dysentery was directly traceable to the water, for at that time the sterilizing plant had not been installed, and men had been working for some time in the shaft from which Hibbing got its water supply. I was told by a local physician that they could predict, in that town, an epidemic of typhoid after one of dysentery—dysentery appearing to make the system especially susceptible to the former disease. In this town alone, about the middle of May, there were nearly or quite 2,000 cases of dysentery, which ceased at once upon the purification of the water; and there was considerable dysentery present at the time of our vist, without question due to fly infection. It differed from the water-caused dysentery in

A Mixers' Boarding House in Town. In the summer time mosquito netting is thrown over the table, confining large numbers of flies which crawl over the exposed food.

symptoms and results, being mild, the patient having but little pain and nausea, and scarcely any fever, and further, in the latter mentioned cases, the patients lost no time from their work.

We made the statement that this latter epidemic of dysentery was due to fly infection. I think we speak advisedly upon this point, and can perhaps convince you that the spread of dysentery can be laid at


the door of the house fly in addition to other serious charges. Dysentery is rather a broad term, covering a number of very closely allied intestinal disorders, all presenting, however, the same general symptoms. We are told by physicians that there is no one specific germ of dysentery, and that it is apparently caused by an excess in the alimentary canal of a number of germs—Bacillus coli is one—found in manure and filth, germs normally existing in comparatively small numbers in a healthy individual. Now, about two years ago, almost all the inmates of a certain institution in Minnesota suddenly developed symptoms of intestinal disorder, which could be likened to dysentery. This was in the cold season, when no flies were present. The trouble was traced unmistakably to drinking water, which was contaminated by the stoppage of the sewer from the institution, causing sewage to back up and enter the well. These conditions, I am happy to say, have been rectified long since. We believe, therefore, that the dysentery in Hibbing in July and August of the present year was caused by germs of the same character, brought by the flies from garbage, manure and other filth to food or drinking water.

This closes our account of conditions existing in this district. Suffice it to say that we left that locality impressed with the existence of the following significant factors: Exposed foulness of all kinds, including pathological excreta, in close proximity to human food; an enormous number of flies congregating in towns and settlements, where an abundance of moisture and filth was found; absence of screens on windows and doors, and dense ignorance and indifference on the part of the miners.

In view of these conditions and the danger present every summer, the question as to what is going to be done about it is an important one. The difficulties which the state board of health and various city boards of health have to contend with have been set forth in the above. To what has been said we should also add that the foreigners, for the most part, have not been used to having medicine donated them in the old country, and refuse frequently to use the remedies offered by medical representatives. It is evidently a fact also that they are not used there to the civic freedom which they find in their new homes; that in the old country they were under closer and stricter surveillance, in other words, they were "kept in line with a club," metaphorically speaking. These factors, coupled with ignorance, indifference and a false attitude of resignation to every ill, are what the physicians of that section have to fight. Some of the miners will obtain and use the chloride of lime they are directed to apply to typhoid excreta emptied into open vaults; some will use it if it is brought to them, but many not only will not purchase it, but even if it is furnished them, have to be visited constantly and made to use it. This points to one crying need in this matter, namely, constant watchfulness over cases on the part of the city or state authorities. In addition, enforcement of municipal laws, increased hospital facilities on the part of the mining companies, additional sewers, pictorial warnings, or, in other words, illustrated circulars in the different languages, which they will read and heed. Preventive measures may have to be made compulsory. Each locality may have to furnish chloride of lime either at the expense of the city or mining companies, and daily official visits made by properly authorized officials to affected houses. The women of the higher classes, in defense of their own families, if for no more altruistic reason, may have to enter the crusade. They could do much among people who either can not or will not understand the dangers with which they are beset.

The cloud is not, however, without the traditional silver lining, and there is promise of better things.

The range is blessed with remarkably fine schools, in many instances housed in elegant and costly buildings, where the children of aliens appear to be eager to learn. In addition there are, in at least one town, night schools for those adults who have free evenings. These latter, I understand, are well patronized, and afford an opportunity, one would imagine, for some educational work along these lines. In Hibbing additional sewers are promised, construction to begin next spring, as well as stricter enforcement of the ordinances regarding the removal of manure piles, or the covering of the same.

In conclusion, let me repeat what was said in the early part of this lecture, that it is not intended by the above recital to stigmatize any town or towns whose names may have been mentioned this evening, for conditions very much as described may be found in many other places. Circumstances, however, are such on the Iron Range at present as to allow the typhoid fly to play a very important part in the lives of the miners.

  1. Address, illustrated by lantern slide and moving pictures, delivered under the auspices of the Entomological Society of America, at their winter meeting in Minneapolis, December 28, 1910.