CHOLERA INFANTUM is an inflammatory disorder of the alimentary canal of infants which prevails in the summer months. This disorder was formerly much more prevalent than now and in some localities was the occasion for more dread and anxiety among parents than any of the diseases "peculiar to children." The death rate in this disease in children between the ages of one and two years was once fearful.
SYMPTOMS: The trouble comes on apparently very suddenly, with great restlessness, fever ranging from 102 to 104 degrees Farenheit. There is much diarrhea, the bowel discharges are accompanied with "bearing down," straining at stool, and considerable pain. Preceding the bowel movement the child will gag or retch.
The sickness of the stomach and all of the other symptoms gradually increase until vomiting becomes frightfully severe. There is very rapid emaciation and parents and friends usually give up hope of saving the little one--not knowing that the rapid emaciation is one of nature's most potent saving measures.
The bowels are filled with gas, the abdomen is very sensitive and, where there is much gas accumulation there is a rapid pulse, rapid, oppressed breathing, and a rise in temperature.
There is extreme thirst, which, alas, was and sometimes is yet, mistaken for hunger. The stools are yellow or whitish-yellow, or they may be tinged with green at the outset, becoming grass-green, with white lumps of milk curd, as the condition grows worse.
Children may die in twenty-four hours in this condition or the symptoms may abate after the first twenty-four hours and convalesence set in. Dr. Tilden says: "Cholera infantum proper is of twenty-four hours duration; after that, if the child remains sick, the disease assumes one of the types given in the nomenclature"--gastro-intestinal catarrh, gastro enteritis, summer complaint, summer diarrhea, gastritis, entero-colitis, ileo-colitis, diarrhea, dysentery.
He also says: "After twenty-four hours, if the disease has spent its force and the child is still alive, the bowel movements continue in frequency and contain more mucus, and at times specks or very delicate streaks of blood, and the fever remains about the same. The thirst is consuming: the child puts anything into its mouth. The restlessness is marked by rolling of the head from side to side and throwing the arms and legs from one place to another.
"Occasionally these cases start with convulsions and quickly sink into a stupor or comatose state, from which they gradually sink into death. Again, stupor may be light, the eyes partly closed, the child becomes more restless and cries at every bowel movement."
Many of these cases, particularly if badly treated, pass into gastroenteritis. This is, or was, particularly true in the middle states where summers are hot. Surprising as it may seem to the uninformed, many people from these states often come to San Antonio to escape the heat of summer. Cases where gastroenteritis has followed a severe cholera infantum, are liable to relapses if they are not handled very carefully. Such children are sick and are liable to relapses every few days or every week or two. Dr. Tilden says: "The doctors of thirty years to forty years ago (now longer) did not pretend to cure these children; they congratulated themselves on being very successful if they could keep the little ones alive until the frost came in the Fall."
It was not uncommon in those days to see these miserable little sufferers reduced to veritible skeletons, waiting for frost to come, but often, unfortunately, dying before the weather became cold enough to frost.
The disease, as previously stated, ranges in severity from a light case of indigestion to a severe case that culminates in death in twenty-four hours. They are all the same and distinctions are those of degree only.
CAUSES: Cholera infantum is a case of septic poisoning; the putresence arising from gastro-intestinal putrefaction. It is a ptomaine poisoning brought on by wrong care and wrong feeding.
In health the body is "potentized with immunizing power," and can, to a large extent, render innocuous deleterious substances taken into the stomach. The secretions of the stomach and intestine take care of such substances for us every day that we live. But by wrong eating, and poor hygiene we break down the body's resistance and derange digestion and decomposition produces poisons in excess of the immunizing power of these secretions.
Babys are often born with a predisposition to digestive derangements. Mothers do not realize, or if they do realize it, they sometimes don't seem to care, that the further they depart from an ideal standard of health, before and during pregnancy, the less resistance their children will be born with.
After birth, with its meddlesome midwifery, babies are handled too much, fed too much and too often, bathed too much, overclothed, kept in poorly ventilated rooms, over excited, not permitted to sleep enough, subjected to tobacco smoke by those who smoke in the house, and subjected to many influences which weaken them and lower their resistance.
These are frequently fed from the family table, whatever the older members of the family eat. They are given bad milk from an overworked, over-excited, overfed, or sick mother.
They are brought up in crowded cities with all their heat, filth, foul air, constant noise and nervous irritations. They enter a world where almost every influence is opposed to them.
Add to all this the abuses of treatment to which they are subjected--laxatives, purgatives, castoria, paregoric, drugged milks, serums, vaccines and all the rest of the evil influences of voodooism, and that glorious state of life which we know as health is seldom assured them. They are forced to be content with half-health and lowered resistance.
Against the poisons resulting from the decomposition in the digestive organs in these little children, the body puts up a fight that is all to often a losing fight.
When the decomposition overwhelms the immunizing power of the digestive juices, the body is poisoned and a real battle begins. The vomiting and purging, so commonly regarded as enemies, are conservative or defensive measures. These are nature's means of expelling the decomposing matter. The putrefying contents of the stomach and intestine are not absorbed. The absorbents, instead of taking up the fluid contents of the digestive tract, reverse their functions, and pour a large amount of fluid--blood-serum into the stomach and intestine to dilute and neutralize the decomposing matter, and wash it away in vomiting and purging. This great quantity of fluid flushes the entire alimentary canal and the poison is washed out. It is this great pouring out of the great amount of serum that causes the great and rapid wasting of the child and the great thirst.
There is no absorption from the stomach and intestine under such conditions. To feed in these cases is to make the child worse. There is no possibility of nourishing such a child. Digestion and absorption are impossible.
CARE OF THE PATIENT: No doubt some of the worst of these cases will die under the best of care, but undoubtedly most deaths are due to the murderous methods used in treating these cases.
Food to sustain the patient, drugs to relieve pain, dope to make them "rest" and "sleep," calomel and salines to increase the purging followed by opiates and other drugs to check or suppress the diarrhea, drugs to depress the nerves--how murderous!
Stop all food at the first sign of trouble. This is the remedy par excellence. Indeed, it often means the difference between life and death. The parent or doctor who stops all food at once fights a winning fight from the start. Fasting is the great pain killer, sleep producer and life saver. There is no danger of starvation and no possibility of nourishing the child.
Isolation and quiet will secure rest. Drugs to force rest only depress the nervous system, weaken the body, lower resistance and assure chronic after-effects, where they do not result in death. Separate the child from the rest of the family and give it quiet.
Give it all the pure cool water it desires and it will demand much of this, but never give it food until all acute symptoms are gone and the bowel movements are normal or ceased.
Keep the child warm. Do not toast it, but keep it warm.
Never permit a doctor to administer heart tonics (really atonics), for these only help to kill the child. Few people die who are not killed by the efforts to save them.
Dr. Tilden says: "When the child is very sick, with blanched countenance and almost imperceptible breathing, slip the pillow out from under the head, elevate the feet (by raising the foot of the bed), if possible, without disturbance, place artificial heat around the body, secure plenty of air, and let the child alone. Further than this is malpractice."
Children that are sick for days and weeks are fed and drugged. These should be fasted until the stomach and bowels are cleaned out and the decomposing milk curds are gotten rid of, then fed according to their powers to digest.
Dr. Page says of such cases: "Cases are on record where a change in the mother's diet--the avoidance of meat, pastry spices, hot sauces, tea, coffee, chocolate--and the adoption of a generous diet of plain wheat-meal bread (varied with rye, corn, and oatmeals), milk and fruit has rapidly restored infants dying of cholera infantum, without aid from any other source."
The old Frost Cure, was simply a waiting until the passing of hot weather, which favors decomposition, and the coming of cold weather, which checks decomposition. But it allowed many children to die, because it did not correct the cause of the trouble. Even after the frost had come and the diarrhea had ceased, the real etiological factors were still present and these children frequently died of "diseases peculiar to winter." Those who managed to pull through had about all the "diseases peculiar to children" and If they did not die young, but grew up, they later had all of the "diseases peculiar to adults." The same general fact is still true for the very obvious reason that no efforts are ever made to correct the real causes of disease.