TUESDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2021
In January 1925, a deadly diphtheria epidemic threatened the children of Nome, Alaska. Medicine to stop the outbreak was in Anchorage, nearly 700 miles away. Twenty sled dog teams relayed the serum from Nenana to Nome, by way of the Iditarod Trail, in just over five days. They endured blinding snow and temperatures reaching 50 degrees below zero.
Balto, a hardy Siberian husky, led the trip’s final leg with his musher, Gunnar Kaasen, and their team of dogs They entered Nome just before daybreak on February 2, 1925. He was considered the hero, however, he was only the last relay. The true unsung hero was as once sickly pup named Togo–see below.
Many people living today do not know the scourge of Diphtheria. They don’t know that young children choked to death. They don’t know that many families lost 3 or 4 children, sometimes all of them. They don’t know how the medical people worked diligently to create a vaccine to prevent the deadly disease,along with a serum to heal the already ill. Neither do they know of the valiant dogs that carried the serum 700 miles across Alaska to heal a village ravaged by by Diphtheria.
The scourge of Diphtheria happened before my time, but I remember an impactful black and white film that featured Diphtheria and its horrible ravages, and how Science turned it around. So, I tried to find the movie and found instead, Togo, the hero dog that delivered 300,000 units of antitoxin to Nome, Alaska. (With William Dafoe as Leonhard Seppala, Togo’s musher.)
Diphtheria is highly contagious, lethal, and mysterious. When medical experts developed treatments and vaccines, the affliction virtually disappeared—but not entirely.
See Science,| October 2021
How Science Conquered Diphtheria, the Plague Among Children
By Perri Klass
Klass, a pediatrician, is the author of A Good Time to Be Born: How Science and Public Health Gave Children a Future.
She writes, “Even Noah Webster, that master of words, did not have a name for the terrible sickness. “In May 1735,” he wrote in A Brief History of Epidemic and Pestilential Diseases, “in a wet, cold season, appeared at Kingston, an inland town in New-Hampshire, situated in a low plain, a disease among children, commonly called the ‘throat distemper,’ of a most malignant kind, and by far the most fatal ever known in this country.” Webster noted the symptoms, including general weakness and a swollen neck. The disease moved through the colonies, he wrote, “and gradually traveled southward, almost stripping the country of children….It was literally the plague among children. Many families lost three and four children—many lost all.” And children who survived generally went on to die young, he wrote from his vantage point of more than half a century later. The “throat distemper” had somehow weakened their bodies.”
In a Canadian journal article from 1927, a doctor recalled the years before the antitoxin was available when he’d had to watch a “beautiful girl of five or six years” choke to death. Later, the doctor’s own daughter came down with Diphtheria, but a decade had passed, and now the antitoxin was available. “To watch the choking dreadful membrane melt away and disappear in a few hours with complete restoration to health within a few days,” he wrote, “was one of the most dramatic and thrilling experiences of my professional career.”
The waters are muddy these days. There is a political war, a distrust in information, false information, propaganda, and greed on the part of those who can benefit from our present pandemic.
I ran across this article about Diphtheria from Science and am mentioning it because I believe there are many people alive today who do not know what a dangerous disease it was and how people and (dogs) worked to curb its tide. (And horses, by the way, for they would inject horses with the virus, wait for them to make antibodies, and then extract the serum.)
There have been horrible diseases in the past. We are not unique. And I wanted to remind people that there are scientists at work trying to ease human beings’ suffering.
I, too, was worried about the ramifications of this current vaccine. It truly isn’t a vaccine, for it has neither an alive or dead virus, but instead a genetic messenger that tells our cells to seek out and destroy the Coronavirus.
People were leery because it is so new, involves genetics, and was developed quickly, without FDA approval (which it now has). More than leery, they were scared and outraged.
The hype told us we would be made magnetic. We would be connected to the Cell towers. We would be filled with nano-particles. It would affect our reproduction. It would affect our DNA. (It doesn’t. It is RNA, the messenger of DNA.) One reason the vaccination came out quickly was that some scientists were already working at the genetic level. So, they had some idea of where to go. (It still took a year.) Yes, it is all new and fearsome, and it’s true we don’t know what we don’t know.
But to say all vaccinations are harmful is “Throwing the baby out with the wash water.” I remember a pediatrician speaking to a group of preschooler’s moms. (When I was a preschooler mom) “You have two children,” he said, “And we’ll keep them alive.”
They are poisoning us yell some. They are injecting us with nano-particles. They will make us magnetic and hook us up to cell towers. They are killing us.
Now really. If the promoters of vaccines wanted to kill us, why not just let the virus do it? (Oh, but that’s too random.)
Dystopian novels such as 1984, have become popular of late (Dangers of totalitarianism, government surveillance, censorship), which shows how fearful people are.
I used Diphtheria as an example of how babies have been saved. The Diphtheria Vaccine has been given to babies since 1928. We give it to our babies and go on our merry way without knowing the horrors from which we have saved them.
I remember Polio, too, and how happy we were to have the Salk vaccine. When I was a child, our mothers wouldn’t let us go to public swimming pools during the hot months of summer for fear of contracting Polio. I knew several people who had it. When I was a very young child, a little girl next door, wore the leg braces you might have seen in the movie Forest Grump.
If you don’t worry about people, read about Jane Goodall’s chimpanzees who contracted Polio, and dragged their hindquarters, and couldn’t clean their beds at night. Usually, chimps build a new clean bed every night. You could see how that would keep them clean and help keep fleas at bay. Ravished by Polio, they couldn’t build a new bed. Some of Jane’s workers would climb up into the trees and clean the beds for the chimps.
You see how mixed this is, how muddy the waters are, and what a shame we are fractured and polarized. And one of the cheap medicines, Ivermectin, that can help prevent or assist in the healing of this virus has been withheld from us. The medical community says it does no good. However it has assisted the healing of many, and had caused no harm. Not one person has died using Ivermectin. Yes, and many have resorted to the use of the Horse wormer Ivermectin, because human-grade cannot be obtained, or if found, is exorbitantly priced. (Not one person has been harmed using the horse paste. Yellow journalism tells us it is toxic to human beings.) We will cry horrors at the use of horse paste, yet we use horse’s serum to heal Diphtheria. (And millions of women use Premarin, a hormone replacement therapy, that is made from mare’s urine, with disastrous results for the mare I might add.) Ivermectin has been proven to be safe. And it has been used for over 40 years with no deaths from its use. If you can manage to get hold of it, the price will be sky-high. While it was once cheap.
Now isn’t that a crime?!
If a person with Covid19 goes to Urgent Care asking for a medicine that can help, they are turned away, saying they aren’t sick enough. If they get sick enough, they can go into the hospital and be placed on a ventilator where their breathing is done for them. Maybe they will recover, maybe not.
I don’t know where we are going with all this. At first, I was Pro-choice on vaccines. Take them or don’t take them. It’s your choice. But I’m tired of the fight. I’m tired of the polarization. I’m tired of the I’m right, you’re wrong mentality. The truth is we are all muddling along. But for us to fight each other is ridiculous. To get one’s blood boiling over disagreements is a big time and energy suck. Plus, a crying shame when we ought to be pulling together.
Diphtheria is still a killer; the mortality rate usually cited is 5 to 10 percent, but fatalities can be incredibly high in areas where medical care is unavailable. A 2011 outbreak in Nigeria had a case fatality rate of almost 43 percent in children 4 and younger.
The Sled dog story:
A statue exists in Central Park New York of a Siberian Husky named Balto who was the lead dog that brought in the diphtheria serum to Nome Alaska, and he mistakenly became the hero.
However, the true unsung hero was another Husky named Togo.
Those in the know finally acknowledged that it was the Siberian Husky Togo who was the unsung hero in the delivery of Diphtheria serum to Nome in 1925. Togo as the lead dog, and Leonhard Seppala, as his musher, with The temperature was estimated at −30 °F (−34 °C), and the gale force winds causing a wind chill of −85 °F (−65 °C).made incredible time in their mad dash east, covering over 170 miles in just three days. The longest of any team.
Togo was twelve years old.
Some insisted the run would kill the dog, but Seppala wouldn’t go without him–thinking he needed him to survive, for the dog had on other occasions saved him and his team. (The dog probably would have escaped to go with them anyway, for as a pup he would escape the kennel to run with the sleds. )
Togo was made of the stuff that makes movies. He was a runt, sickly, and obstinate. (He was tenderly nursed by Mrs. Seppala.) Due to his size, Seppala, the breeder, decided he would never make a good sled dog so he gave him away to be a pet. Togo ran through a plate glass window to get back home. At that point, Seppala decided he would do what he was skilled to do, train sled dogs, so he tied the scrawny pup to the sled line.
Togo ran 75 miles that day–unheard of for such a young dog.
On the return trip from Nome Alaska, the team was stranded on an ice floe. Seppala tied a rope on Togo, anchored the other end to the floe, and threw Togo five feet across water to the shore. He thought Togo could pull the floe across the divide. To his horror the line snapped. Amazingly, the once-in-a-lifetime lead dog had the wherewithal to snatch the line from the water, roll it around his shoulders like a harness, and eventually pull his team to safety.
“Afterwards, I thought of the ice and the darkness and the terrible wind and the irony that men could build planes and ships. But when Nome needed life in little packages of serum, it took the dogs to bring it through.”–Leonhard Seppala
The National Park Service notes that in 1960, Seppala said, “I never had a better dog than Togo. His stamina, loyalty and intelligence could not be improved upon. Togo was the best dog that ever traveled the Alaska trail.”P.S. The Husky who played Togo in the movie Togo was a direct descendant of the original Togo going back 14 generations. Seppala Siberian Huskies are famous, and Seppala was given the Humanitarian award for the best care of his dogs.
Although the statue in Central Park is of Balto, in 2001 Togo eventually got his own statue. It is in Seward Park New York.