Plague, or Pestis, is one of the most fatal disorders that have often depopulated extensive regions of the earth : it is defined to be a very contagious, nervous fever, attended with extreme debility.
In the year 1665, nearly 100,000 persons died of this destructive malady, in the metropolis alone ; and, as the commercial intercourse between this country and the Levant, renders the British ships and shores every year liable to contract this virulent contagion, which, if neglected on its first appearance, might be productive of dreadful consequences, we shall state the most striking indications of its presence, together with an account of the remedies that have been employed with the greatest success— The first symptoms are, thirst, stupor, giddiness, and violent head-ach ;j a stiff and uneasy sensation, accompanied with redness and tumors about the eyes, which shed involuntary tears ; the appearance of white pustules on the tongue ; and, sooner or later, the eruption of carbuncles on the body; anxiety ; palpitation of the heart, which, as well as the liver, becomes preternaturally' enlarged ; uncommon fetor of the breath ; nausea ; vomiting of bite; livid spots appear on the whole body ; violent haemorrhages ; and, at length, a total prostration of strength.
Various causes have been assigned for the origin of this mortal scourge. Dr. CullEn supposes it to arise from a specific contagion, which produces a general putre-scency in the fluids, together with a sudden debility of the moving powers, or of the nervous system. Dr. Russel also ascribes it to a pestilential contagion ; but the following may be classed among the most obvious causes contributing to induce that disorder; namely, corrupt or damaged grain, putrid fish, or other, animal substances; noxious exhalations arising from stagnant waters; residence in confined situations, where the current of air is obstructed; and, lastly, want of cleanliness.
The plague attacks persons of all ages and sexes indiscriminately, though some instances have occurred, in which certain countries and persons were exempt from its influence. Thus, we are informed by Chardin, Haller, and other writers, that it is unknown in Persia, as well as in Japan. Nor are the gouty and dropsical subject to its attacks; and it appears from a variety of instances, that curriers are likewise exempt from its con-tagion.
The plague rages most violently in the summer, especially during the increase of the moon ; its effects are somewhat diminished in autumn ; and, during the winter, it is greatly reduced, or totally sup-pressed. No precaution, however, can secure any person from a second attack, as many have survived two, and even three visitations of this malignant disease.
Prevention.—Various means have been devised for this purpose; and, as the plague can be introduced into Britain only from other countries, the utmost circumspection is required in performing quarantine, and in ventilating the suspected merchandize, before it is suffered to be warehoused. But, if the plague should unfortunately break out in any particular family or place, those, who are obliged to have any intercourse with the latter, must carefully avoid to come in contact with the infected, or with any article that has passed through their hands. Such, however, as are induced to attend on the sick, ought to adopt the precautions already stated under the article Infection ; to shun intemperance of every kind, and not to indulge in fear, or any of the depressing passions. Moderate exercise ; frequent bathing in cold water ; gentle purgatives ; fumigations ; the prudent use of wine and spirituous liquors ; and, lastly, tonic and antiseptic medicines, especially the Peruvian bark, and camphor, have occasionally been found effectual preservatives.
Cure.—The remedies are as various as the causes producing the disorder. Bleeding, gentle laxatives, and mild emetics, have been employed with advantage, both in the earlier and advanced stages of the plague. Camphor, sudorifics, particularly opiates, when combined with small portions of neutral salts ; the Peruvian bark, and acids, have all proved of great service.
Beside these general remedies, there are certain specifics which seem to deserve attention. In some observations lately published by M. Gbrsonius, a Swedish physician, on the plague that depopulated Tunis, we are informed, that the remedies he employed with the greatest success, were the flowers of the German Leopards-bane, and purified opium.—In the year 1771, a. composition was published by the Medical Board at Moscow, and which was denominated the Fumigating Powder : it is said to have been of singular efficacy in preventing infection, and is prepared in the following manner.
Powder of the first strength :— Take six pounds of juniper-leaves, a similar quantity of juniper-berries, ears of wheat, guaiacum-wood, and sulphur; eight pounds of- nitre and two pounds of Smyrna tar, or myrrh : these ingredients are to be carefully incorporated, by pounding or bruising them in proper vessels.
Powder of the second strength :—. Take five pounds of southernwood, and four pounds of the leaves of juniper, both cut into small pieces; four pounds of nitre, two pounds and a half of sulphur, and one pound and a half of Smyrna tar, or myrrh. Let these be duly mixed together, as above directed.
Odoriferous Powder:—Take three pounds of the root, called Sweet-Flag, cut into small pieces; one pound of frankincense; half a pound of storax coarsely pounded ; half a pound of rose-flowers ; one pound of yellow amber; and one pound and a half of common saltpetre, both pounded; one pound of Smyrna tar, or myrrh; and a quarter of a pound of sulphur. These articles should be properly mixed.
The Commissioners, who published these compositions, observe; that the cones of pines or firs may be substituted for the guaiacum, if the latter cannot be easily procured ; the common tar may likewise be employed instead of that obtained from Smyrna, or of myrrh ; and mugwort may be used in the room of wormwood.
The most successful remedy, however, that has hitherto been discovered for curing the plague, is friction of the infected with warm olive-oil, which we have incidentally mentioned in p. 286 of the present volume. it was first suggested by Mr. Baldwin, late Consul General in Egypt, and then adopt-, ed by Father Luigi Di Pavia, who has exposed himself for nearly 30 years to infection, by his philan thropic and unceasing attendance on such as were attacked with this dreadful malady.
As soon as the first symptoms of infection are perceived, the person thus afflicted should be removed to a close room, and placed over the frame of a vessel containing hot coals ; while his body is rubbed very briskly with a clean sponge dipped in warm olive-oil, in order to excite a profuse sweat. During this operation, it will be necessary to burn sugar and juniper-berries, as these will produce a thick smoke, and greatly promote the effect. Such friction, however, ought not to exceed three or four minutes; as it will, in general, be followed by copious perspiration; but, in the contrary case, the body must be wiped with a warm, dry, cloth ; tepid drinks, such as elder-flower-tea, etc should be administered to the patient and the rubbing once every day continued, till the disease assume a favourable appearance.
In performing this simple operation, the greatest caution is requisite to guard against taking cold: such parts of the body, therefore, as are not immediately under friction, must be covered, and the linen remain unchanged, till the perspiration has entirely subsided.—It does not appear to be necessary, that the eyes should be touched ; though the other tender parts of the body must be rubbed somewhat gently; and the whole process daily repeated till the patient evidently begin to recover. If tumors arise, they ought to be frequently, but softly, managed, till they become disposed to suppurate by means of emollient plasters.
Count Berchtold (from whose pamphlet, published on this subject, at Vienna, in 1797, we have extracted the directions above stated), observes that the friction ought not to be delayed, till the mass of the blood, and the nerves, are affected; or till a diarrhoea ensue ; as at so late a period, there will be little prospect of a cure the patient, however, should not even in such case be neglected ; for some have been recovered by the assiduous application of the means proposed ; though the disease had already made great progress.
During the first four or five days, the patients must observe a very sparing diet; thus, the pious monk above mentioned allows them only a small quantity of vermicelli boiled in equal parts of vinegar and water, without the addition of any salt, or other spice. He likewise gave them, six or seven times in the course of the day, a small spoonful of sour cherries, preserved in sugar; and, when his patients were on the list of convalescents, he permitted them to take, on the fifth morning, a cup of good Mok-ha coffee, together with a piece of toasted biscuit, prepared with sugar ; which quantity he doubled, according to their strength and improving state of health.
The proportion of oil to be employed at each friction cannot be ascertained with precision ; but, in general, a pint or pound was .sufficient: its salutary effects are not merely confined to the cure of persons infected with the plague ; but it is likewise successfully used as a preventive. Hence Father LuiGI directs the attendants to rub them-selves in a similar manner, previously to their attempting; the unction of others ; to avoid the current of the patient's breath ; and not to entertain the least apprehension of becoming infected: Farther, they should adhere to a very abstemious diet; refraining from all food and liquors that may inflame the blood, and excite the passions.
On account of its extreme importance, we have discussed this subject at some length; for, if olive-oil be thus efficacious, both in curing and preventing the plague, it is highly probable that it may also be employed with the happiest effect, in other infectious disorders.