The New York Times/1918/05/31/Topics of the Times/This, Too, Germany Has Done?

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Topics of the Times

Published Friday, May 31, 1918

This, Too,
Has Done?

There is a possibly significant sentence in the dispatch from Madrid that told about the prevalence in Spain of what is described as "a grippe-like disease." This malady attacks all classes, from the King down to his humblest subjects, and is said to be spreading among the horses. As to the origin of the infection, there is offered the interesting theory that it was brought to Spain by the crews of the German submarines.

There is at least a chance that this may be true, and true, too, in spite of the fact that no such epidemic has been reported as existing in Germany. It would not be the first time that conditions as new as those attendant upon long service in submersible vessels have resulted, if not in the generation of a new sort of bacteria, at least in so changing an existing species that the disease it produces in a human host differs enough from those previously known to be called new.

It is a part of medical history, and a part undenied, if not treated as really established, that yellow fever was unknown anywhere in the world until after the trade in African slaves had been going on for some years. According to the available evidence, such as it is, that terrible fever was not brought from Africa to the two Americas, for it had not existed in Africa; it originated among the wretched creatures crowded into the holds of the slave ships and kept there in now almost unimaginable filth and torture through the endless weeks and months of a "middle passage." All the first appearances of yellow fever in epidemic form were at the ports where these slave ships landed their cargoes of "black ivory."

It is possible, though of course not very probable, that something of the same kind has happened on the German submarines. Living conditions on board of them, while different from those on the old slavers, are almost as bad, and what they would do in the way of changing familiar germs, such as those of malaria or coryza, is a matter, not of opinion or prophecy, but of experience and observation. That they might produce a malady grippe-like, but not grippe, and worse than grippe, cannot be denied offhand.

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