disease

Ebola Comes to Reston

Transmission Electron Micrograph of the Ebola Virus (Reston virus strain). Hemorrhagic Fever, RNA Virus. From CDC (Source: Wikipedia)

On October 4, 1989, a primate quarantine unit in Reston received a shipment of 100 monkeys from a Philippine facility. By November, nearly one-third of the animals had died – a much higher percentage than normal – of mysterious causes. Dan Dalgard, the consulting veterinarian of the unit, was alarmed and contacted the US Army Medical Research Institute (USAMRIID). Dalgard talked to Peter Jahrling, a virologist at USAMRIID, who told him to send a few samples of the dead monkeys. Neither one of them was prepared for what they found. 

Now abandoned, Glenn Dale Hospital and Sanatorium was Washington's response to its Tuberculosis problem in the 1930s. (Photo source: Wikipedia)

DC's TB Problem

Tonight at 9pm, WETA TV 26 and WETA HD premiere the new American Experience film The Forgotten Plague, which details the impact of Tuberculosis on American society. TB was a problem everywhere. But, the disease hit few places as hard as it hit Washington, D.C. In fact, according to a 1934 report by the District Medical Society, only Memphis, San Antonio and New Orleans had higher death rates among large cities in the United States.

The stats were alarming. They were also somewhat surprising, at least according to some. As the DMS report noted, since D.C. “is less congested and the economic situation is better than in any other city in this country, we should have one of the lowest death rates.” However, the rate in the nation’s capital was “higher even than that of Baltimore, where congestion and the economic situation are notoriously unfavorable.” (Sorry, Baltimore, apparently you were the measuring stick for terrible public health in the 1930s.)

National Hotel c. 1920 (Source: Library of Congress)

A Five Star Malady

What better treat for a president-elect waiting to move into the White House than to stay in one of the swankiest hotels in the capital? Well, as it turns out, James Buchanan would have done better to have found less plush accomodations in the spring of 1857. He and hundreds of others fell victim to a mysterious ailment after staying at the luxurious National Hotel.

This sickness, because it came at the end of a harsh campaign against the victorious Buchanan, was thought by many to arise from a poison. Fingers were pointed at various political opponents; even the Spanish government in Cuba was blamed.