We Had Scarlet Fever


By dhowell - Posted on 30 November 2013

When I was four years old, "we had scarlet fever." It was one of the dread childhood diseases along with diphtheria, whooping cough, and what we called "hard" measles (Rubeola—Morbilli). We kids ranged in age from seven to one and a half years, and I'm sure as symptoms developed, my Folks consulted the "Doctor Book." In 1915 the R.C. Barnum Company of Cleveland, Ohio published a three part Peoples Home Library. Section one was the People's Home Medical Book, two was Home Recipes, and three was The Home Stock Book to be used for farm animals.

The Medical Book listed all types of diseases and illnesses, contained color plate illustrations, furnished recipes for medicines, salves, ointments, liniments, and described symptoms, and listed remedies and nursing procedures. My Folks spent many hours perusing this book, learning symptoms of various diseases so they would recognize them when any of us got sick.

I have copied pages from the book for scarlet fever. There was also a full page color plate to show how the scarlet rash looked on a boy's body.

When my Folks felt that we had something too serious for them to handle, they called Doc Scheurer, our Manchester family doctor. He became a legend in this community for his service and was quoted as saying he knew something serious had happened when he received a call from our place. I'm sure that when he responded to our scarlet fever call he soon confirmed Mom's diagnosis, issued his orders and dispensed medicine before tacking the large black and scarlet lettered Quarantine sign on the house. It was called for by law and meant no one could leave or enter until it was removed when the disease had run its course.

Since we lived on a farm, that sign meant more than it would have in town. Dad needed to go outside several times to work and do chores. Technically he was not supposed to reside in the house and do this during quarantine. Possibly because of the economic effect enforcement of this rule would have on our family, coupled with Doc's knowledge of my Folks, he permitted Dad to stay with us and to care for eggs and milk in the back room, quite removed from the sick rooms.

The first floor was turned into a hospital with each of us in a separate room. I lay on a couch in the living room near a porch window. Hazel had a mild case and Les who was still nursing wasn't hit hard. Stanley's mouth and ear was affected. His tongue peeled as if it had been cooked and his ear drained for some time afterwards. I was hit in the kidneys and experienced severe swelling in both legs which developed black blotches on the skin. Pillows under my knees kept me comfortable.
Doc prescribed a mysterious pink powder to be taken with lots of water. I still think the water probably did more good than the powder which may only have been an innocuous concoction he used to get patients to drink the amount of water he wanted them to. I might have been given some Belladonna to help me rest. The Doctor Book recipe listed on a table elsewhere called for: "Put 10 or 15 drops of the third dilution into half a glass of water and give two teaspoons every 1 to 3 hours."

I can recall seeing relatives bring oranges onto the porch and waving to me before they left. I learned later that for a couple days when I was the worst Mom had cried most of the day as she worked because she didn't think I'd make it. The quarantine lasted 6 weeks and that meant lots of nursing care, changed beds, and extra cooking along with all the regular farm house work.

When the quarantine was lifted there was more to be done. All books and non metal toys we had played with were burned. Other items were sterilized, probably in boiling water. Bedding was boiled on the stove before it was washed and hung in the sun. Mattresses were hauled outside, beaten with the carpet beater and left in the sun for a day or two on each side. Braziers of coals were brought into the sick rooms and sulfur was sprinkled on the fire to produce a dense, yellow smoke which was sealed there for a few hours. Then every room was scrubbed thoroughly with strong soap before being returned to its original use.
We were thankful we didn't lose anyone as many families did. The lingering effects on us were not as serious as those whose eyes had been damaged or who had been left with draining ears for life. I'm sure a lot of the aches in my legs as I grew up came from the fever, so did the varicose veins which developed much later. However, I took the aches for granted and, when I complained my Mom told me they were just "growing pains" and would soon go away. You know, I believed that for years and it made me feel better.

Howard E. Parr
June 17, 1987

People's Home Medical Book, page 48

People's Home Medical Book, page 49