Back When Diseases In The Rim Country Had No Cure



We have become aware of danger to Americans from terrorists using biological weapons. Rim country residents tends to feel secure because of our isolation from metropolitan areas, but such security may be more felt than real.

Nature itself has always threatened diseases that could not be cured, and as the spring begins to call us out into the wilderness, we might recall some of the dangers that lurk from nature's own bio-terrorism.

Nurse Theresa Boardman recalled how Dr. Risser diagnosed diphtheria among the Tonto Apaches living on Indian Hill in the 1920s. It was recognizable because so many of the White families had been struck by it over the decades of settlement. Family cemeteries witness to the many children who died from diseases that could not be prevented or treated.

Along the old Ox Bow Hill road there are four graves for the children of Samuel A. Haught Jr., all dying of diphtheria in August of 1892.

The entire John Holder family contracted undulant fever from their herd of Angora goats along the East Verde River. Although it caused them all a malaise, it was diphtheria again that took the lives of Mrs. Sydney Holder and her baby. And the same year, it took Arminta Holder and an unnamed baby of John and Margaret Holder. Those graves are along Highway 87 near the crossing, and near the river at Beaver Valley.

Nearly every cemetery in the Rim country keeps dark secrets of frontier disease.

We no longer tremble before the threat of diphtheria, but we do wonder about terrorists using smallpox or anthrax.

More immediately, we need to be aware of diseases endemic to the Rim country. Lyme Disease is one example.

Lyme Disease is the most common tick-borne disease in North America, and in recent years has spread to every continental state. It is transmitted by deer ticks living on deer or field mice. While most common in the Northeast and upper Midwest, our Western states have it carried by a tick named Ixodes pacificus. It is so small it may look like a freckle in your skin.

Half the size of a dog tick, the Lyme Disease tick is a uniform brownish red or black while a dog tick has white markings on its back.

Hikers can be cautious by keeping shirts and pant legs tucked in, and inspecting bodies and head at the end of the day. The tick will migrate to tight or hidden spots. Like all ticks, they quest for blood, and can sense you coming as they cling to branches or the ends of grasses waiting for you to brush by.

The disease can also be transmitted by the bite of an infected horse/deer fly or flea. A bite will produce a telltale bull's eye rash, but the tiny creature must be attached for about 24 hours before Lyme Disease is transmitted.

General symptoms mimic the flu, as do most of these plague-like diseases. However, in addition to fatigue, fever, headache and joint pain, this can also show up in facial paralysis or meningitis.

Lyme Disease can be treated and cured by antibiotics if detected early enough, but if left without early treatment it can develop into a debilitating illness that attacks every system of the body.

Another possible lurking danger in the wilderness is the bubonic plague.

When I first heard it mentioned in Arizona I thought, surely not! That was something from the Middle Ages in Europe. The disease was brought to North America by rats and their fleas as the world first moved into the 20th century. It spread across the Western states and is part of life here in Arizona.

This bacterium multiplies at such incredible rates it can overwhelm its host, doubling every two hours.

It is carried primarily by rodents and squirrels, but can be transmitted by contact with other wild animals or by the fleas themselves.

The most likely time of transmission is between April 1 and the end of September.

Outdoors folk must avoid contact with sick or dead animals, and prevent their pets from roaming. Keeping pets dusted for fleas is very important, and staying away from the borrows of rodents goes without saying.

Gila County is one of the Arizona counties where this plague has been reported.

If one is infected, the time between exposure and the onset of symptoms is about a week. Again, rapidly rising temperature and other flu-like symptoms occur, as well as painfully inflamed lymph nodes, especially in the groin.

As it progresses, it is increasingly difficult to treat, even in our age of antibiotics. In the pneumonic form of the plague, death can occur within 24 hours of exposure.

In the Middle Ages, there seemed no natural explanation for the plague. The nursery rhyme of children was developed in those days, and becomes very macabre. Ring around the rosies, A pocket full of posies, Achoo! Achoo! (Or Ashes, Ashes) We all fall down.

The "rosies" were the rash, the "posies" were the flower petals carried to perfume the odor of death. "Achoo" was the sneeze that seemed to spread the disease, or "Ashes" were the residue of burned corpses. Falling down, of course, was death. Not a pretty theme song.

Another of the modern Arizona plagues is the Hanta Virus.

The Hanta Virus was not identified until 1993, and now four different strains have been isolated.

It is a pulmonary disease, contracted by inhaling the virus from the urine or feces of infected rodents. It also can be contracted from a direct rodent bite or rodent saliva on an open sore.

Working in areas where infected rodents have been can stir it up, and one needs to take care when cleaning out the summer cabin or working around possible rodents' nests.

Disinfecting or bleaching the area where nests or droppings are found should precede the actually cleaning.

The virus is active especially between 45 and 72 degrees of temperature, but will die once exposed to direct sunlight.

Again, severe flu-like symptoms precede respiratory failure. If the Hanta Virus is suspected, one should see a doctor immediately.

As yet there is no known treatment, and 50 percent of the cases are fatal.

I'm going to get out and hike anyway, but I am aware that nature herself can be the terrorist I have to watch out for.

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