Sandburg's Hometown

September 2, 2013


Typhoid Fever

By Barbara Schock

As each summer ended in the 19th century, many communities like Galesburg endured an outbreak of typhoid fever. City officials warned citizens to boil all water used for drinking and cooking. Householders were urged to protect food from flies and put screens on open windows. Doctors were required to report all cases of typhoid fever to city officials. It was important to know if an epidemic was developing.

Typhoid is a common bacterial disease transmitted by eating or drinking food or water contaminated by the feces of an infected person. There are four stages of the disease, each of about one week’s duration. During the first week, the temperature of the patient rises gradually and is accompanied by headache, cough and abdominal pain. The second week, a high temperature develops and plateaus at about 104 degrees. The patient may be delirious and develops diarrhea as well as rose spots on the abdomen. By the third week, complications may develop with intestinal hemorrhaging or perforations. The fever is still high and the patient may become dehydrated. The fever begins to subside by the fourth week.

Untreated cases may result in 10 to 30 percent fatalities. The disease is still endemic in parts of South America, Africa, India and the Far East, with an estimated 16 to 30 million cases annually. It most often strikes children and young adults.

The site selected by the Reverend George Washington Gale and his companions for the establishment of Galesburg included a creek and several springs. The pioneers were well aware a source of water was necessary. As the community grew, many residents dug their own wells near their houses. Outdoor privies were placed at the rear of the long residential lots. On occasion there could be migration of liquid through the ground or a person who carried the typhoid bacteria might have contaminated the water supply.

There is no evidence any members of Carl Sandburg’s family contracted typhoid. The cleanliness of the city’s Swedes made it likely they would be careful to protect their well, cover food to keep it from flies and would wash their hands as often as practicable.

Galesburg struggled with drinking water supply and waste water treatment issues for decades. Artesian wells were created to provide water for the community, but were not sufficient for emergency needs. Building a distribution system for tap water as well as treatment for waste water were monumental projects. Today, the city has efficient systems in place which serve the residents.

The chlorination of public water systems began in 1908 and spread across the country. The incidence of typhoid and similar diseases began to decline. For example, in 1891 the rate of infection was 174 per 100,000 people. Today, it is five infections per million people.

By 1914, the U.S. Public Health Service had set standards for the bacteriological quality of drinking water. In 1962, 28 difference substances in water were regulated by the federal government. The Safe Drinking Water Act was approved by Congress in 1984 and has been updated several times.

In recent years, more than fifty active pharmaceutical ingredients have been found in treated drinking water. There is also ongoing research into organisms which may live within the water distribution systems. The 53,000 water treatment facilities within the United States still have a great deal of work to do in providing safe drinking water to their constituents. However, typhoid is no longer the threat it once was.

Sandburg's Hometown
Date Title
September 2, 2013 Typhoid Fever
August 26, 2013 Coffee and Water
August 19, 2013 A Horse! A Horse!
August 12, 2013 Gaddial Scott
August 5, 2013 The Racetrack
July 29, 2013 John Peter Algeld - Part II
July 22, 2013 John Peter Altgeld - Part I
July 15, 2013 Tramps, Tramps, Tramps
July 8, 2013 Lady Liberty
July 1, 2013 Galesburg's Fourth
June 24, 2013 John H. Finley
June 17, 2013 The World's Columbian Exhibition
June 10, 2013 Fruit Short-Cake
June 3, 2013 Horatio Alger, Author
May 27, 2013 Memorial Day, 1887
May 20, 2013 Professor Jon W. Grubb
May 13, 2013 Beginnings of Lombard University
May 6, 2013 Young Sandburg’s View of Lombard College
April 29, 2013 Thinking
April 22, 2013 Robert Colville, Master Mechanic
April 15, 2013 The Galesburg Opera House
April 8, 2013 Grocery Stores and Sample Rooms
April 1, 2013  A Hearty  Breakfast 
March 25, 2013  The Lost Wallpaper Legend 
March 18, 2013 Martin G. Sandburg
March 4, 2013 The Edison Talking Machine
February 25, 2013 Joe Elser, Civil War Veteran
February 18, 2013 Remember the Maine...
February 11, 2013 Lincoln's Birthday
February 4, 2013 Curiosity