Article

“I Am the Baby Killer!” House Flies and the Spread of Polio

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Abstract

Prior to the Spanish-American War (1898), the nonbiting common house fly, Musca domestica L. (Diptera: Muscidae), was thought to be an annoying but harmless fact of life. Not only was the house fly believed to “lend life and beauty to the landscape,” but it was also considered as a helpful scavenger “wisely provided by nature” (Rogers 1989). An epidemiological investigation of the typhoid fever epidemic in the national assembly camps during the Spanish-American War changed that perception forever. The U.S. Army's Typhoid Board, headed by Maj. Walter Reed, established that the house fly was a mechanical vector for the typhoid bacillus, Salmonella typhi (Cirillo 2006). The board's evidence was so impressive that Leland O. Howard, chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Entomology, proposed renaming the house fly the “typhoid fly” to focus attention on its importance as a public health menace (Howard 1911). The newly acquired understanding of the link between house flies and disease was to have significant cultural, economic, and scientific repercussions in 1916, during the nation's most devastating polio epidemic. Polio has afflicted humankind since antiquity. An Egyptian funeral stele dating from the Eighteenth Dynasty (1580-1350 BCE) depicts a priest from Ruma with a withered and shortened leg and his foot in the equinus position typical of the flaccid paralysis of polio (McHenry 1969). Polio (previously termed infantile paralysis and poliomyelitis) is a viral infection spread from person to person by contact with feces-contaminated hands, food, water, or inanimate objects. Poliovirus enters the body via the mouth, travels through the digestive …

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... Potensi epidemik penyakit yang dibawa oleh lalat sangat dipengaruhi dengan kemampuan lalat berkembangbiak yang tergantung iklim dan kondisi lingkungan, kemampuan membawa dan menyebarkan beberapa agen penyakit tanpa mempengaruhi kondisi tubuhnya, dan buruknya sanitasi. 59 Beberapa kasus polio dilaporkan mengalami epidemik di masa lalu di beberapa wilayah di dunia dan lalat diduga sebagai vektornya. 59 Tahun 2004 telah terjadi wabah anthraks dan menewaskan 124 ekor sapi di peternakan Italia, infeksi ini diyakini melibatkan lalat dalam penyebaran kumannya. ...
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Prior to Patrick Manson's discovery in 1877 that the mosquito Culex fatigans was the intermediate host of filariasis, the association of insects with disease and the nature of disease transmission was almost entirely speculation. Manson's work was incomplete, however, because it showed the manner in which the mosquito acquired the infection from humans, but failed to show the way in which the mosquito passed the infection to humans. That pathogens were transmitted by the bite of an infected female mosquito was later proven experimentally with bird malaria by Manson's protégé, Ronald Ross. In 1898 Ross demonstrated that the infective stage of the malarial parasite was injected into the host when the mosquito released saliva into the wound prior to injesting blood. Insects were suspected as carriers of disease for centuries, yet it was not until the late 1870s that the uncritical acceptance of folk beliefs was supplanted by research-based scientific medicine. Why did it take so long? The answer lies in the fact that early medicine itself was imprecise and could not have pursued the subject with any hope of useful results until the last quarter of the 19th century. A better understanding of the nature of the disease process (germ theory of disease) and improved technology (microscopes and oil-immersion lenses with greater resolving power, and synthetic tissue stains) were indispensable for revealing the nexus between those partners in crime: insects and parasites.
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1. Studies on a large number of tissues obtained from fatal cases of human poliomyelitis have revealed that the virus is distributed predominantly in two systems: (a) certain regions of the nervous system, and (b) the alimentary tract. 2. Poliomyelitis virus was demonstrated in the walls of the pharynx, ileum, and only once in those of the descending colon, while the contents of the descending colon regularly contained the virus. 3. The presence of virus in the walls of the alimentary tract appears to be the result neither of generalized dissemination of the virus nor of secondary centrifugal spread, but rather that of primary localization or portal of entry. 4. In the absence of evidence of any demonstrable centrifugal spread to peripheral collections of nerve cells (e.g., in the superior cervical sympathetic ganglia, suprarenals, salivary glands), the presence of virus in the abdominal sympathetic plexus of one case may be indicative of at least one pathway of centripetal virus progression. 5. The absence of demonstrable virus in the nasal mucosa, olfactory bulbs, and anterior perforated substance suggests that neither the upper respiratory tract nor the olfactory pathway were affected in the cases of human poliomyelitis studied in the present investigation.
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1. The detection of the virus of poliomyelitis in 10 stools from 8 individuals is reported. All were in relation to epidemic poliomyelitis and 7 of them represented well recognized forms of the disease. The positive stools were distributed among 56 specimens collected from 53 persons in the first 4 weeks of illness. 2. The ease of detection of virus was directly related to the non-paralytic type of disease and inversely related to the age of the patients. 3. The negative results with stools employed for controls gives point to the use of the fecal examinations as an epidemiological tool. 4. The stability of the virus in feces has been demonstrated by successful mailing of samples over long distances and during the heat of summer. 5. At least one infective dose per gram of fecal material was extracted from one stool.
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The feeding and reproductive habits of non-biting synanthropic flies make them important mechanical vectors of human pathogens. Synanthropic flies are major epidemiologic factors responsible for the spread of acute gastroenteritis and trachoma among infants and young children in (predominantly) developing countries. House flies are involved in mechanical transmission of nosocomial infections with multiple antibiotic-resistant bacteria in hospital environments.
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Typhoid fever was the scourge of 19th- and early 20th-century armies. During the Spanish-American War (1898) and the Anglo-Boer War (1899- 1902), typhoid killed more soldiers than enemy bullets. Walter Reed and his coworkers investigated the cause of the typhoid epidemics in the U.S. Army camps and concluded that, next to human contact, the housefly (Musca domestica) was the most active agent in the spread of the disease. British medical officers in South Africa, facing even worse typhoid epidemics, reached the same conclusion. The experiences of the American and British armies finally convinced the medical profession and public health authorities that these insects conveyed typhoid. The housefly was now seen as a health menace. Military and civilian sanitarians waged fly-eradication campaigns that prevented the housefly's access to breeding places (especially human excrement), and that protected food and drink from contamination. Currently, M. domestica is recognized as the mechanical vector of a wide variety of viral, bacterial, and protozoal pathogens. Fly control is still an important public health measure in the 21st century, especially in developing countries.
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