Clark, Paul F. / Pioneer microbiologists of America
Chapter XVI: California and the coast, pp. 292-308
California and the Coast point. General acceptance followed the publication of the remarkable reports of the India Plague Commission (i 9o6-I 7). On March 6, i9oo, a Chinese had died in San Francisco without benefit of medical attention; in order to provide a burial permit, an autopsy was performed by the assistant city physician, Frank P. Wil- son. Because of the pathologic findings, he suspected bubonic plague. This was reported to W. H. Kellogg,5 bacteriologist of the City Board of Health, who demonstrated in smears from an enlarged lymph node organisms having the size, shape, and staining reactions of the plague bacillus. As the city had no facilities for animal tests, the glands were submitted to the federal quarantine officer, J. J. Kinyoun, who on March 8 injected the material into rats, guinea pigs, and a monkey. Three days later one rat and two guinea pigs died with typical enlarged lymph nodes and spleen; the monkey became ill and died on March 1 3. Thus the cause of death was confirmed bacteriologically both by Kin- youn and by Kellogg; the Chinese had died of bubonic plague. As a matter of fact the health authorities had been expecting the plague because the disease had been on the march from India and China since early in 1894. Then the storm broke. Appropriate preventive procedures were put into operation, but city and state authorities took different positions. Some said there was plague; some, including Governor Gage and mem- bers of the State Board of Health, said there was no plague. A campaign of vilification such as we had not seen in medical controversies in this country was waged by pen, cartoon, and political attack. Business was being injured was the cry and, of course, a truthful one. Kellogg was relieved of his job (he later made a good comeback and became secre- tary of the State Board of Health), and Kinyoun would have been fired had he not had a federal position. Local litigation, conflict between state and national authority, and interstate quarantine came into the picture. Controversy was so intense over the humiliating scandal that a neutral commission was appointed by federal authority to determine the truth. Simon Flexner from the University of Pennsylvania for pathology, F. G. Novy from the University of Michigan for bacteri- ology, and Lewellys F. Barker from the University of Chicago for clin- ical medicine, each with experience with plague, went to San Francisco, studied six cases and came to the unanimous conclusion that the cases were the plague. Novy took cultures of the organism back to Ann Arbor and gave them to a medical student (C. B. H.) to make some 295
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