Army Of Health
( Originally Published 1920 )
An Army to Fight Disease.—When a nation goes to war, it must depend for safety upon its army and navy. The soldiers and sailors have been trained to fight the enemy on land and sea, and their officers have studied the business of war, so that they know how the campaign should be carried on and just how the forces of the nation can be used to most effect.
In peace time and in war time, too, there is always a fight going on against the microbes that cause disease. Do you know about the special army that fights this war?
There is such an army, an army of men and women who spend their lives in protecting you and me from our invisible foes. They are the men and women employed by the Boards of Health of town and city and state and by the United States Public Health Service at Washington.
In a war, every good citizen must do all he can to help the government. The army and the navy alone cannot win, if men and women all over the country are not doing their part, by making guns and building ships and growing grain and helping the Red Cross and buying Liberty Bonds and War Savings Stamps.
It is just the same in the war against disease. The Board of Health cannot keep us safe, if we do not help by doing our part, every one of us. We are going to learn in this chapter about some of the things that the Board of Health is trying to accomplish, for we cannot help if we do not understand something about the tasks of the health officer and his doctors and nurses and inspectors.
Keeping the City Clean.—One of the things that the Board of Health has to do is to see that the city is kept dean. If there is a heap of decaying refuse in a back yard, for instance, ,or if there is a broken drain in the cellar, a letter or a telephone call should be sent to the Board of Health. An inspector will come and see what is wrong; and if the condition is harmful, he will have it remedied.
Many conditions of this kind, with -which the Board of Health must deal, have really very little to do with health. They are merely things that from their smell or their appearance are offensive. Such things are called nuisances. On the other hand, some nuisances are very important indeed from a health standpoint, such as badly built open closets, manure piles which may breed flies, and pools of stagnant water which may breed mosquitoes.
The Board of Health does not wait to be called in by the complaints of the citizens. Its men are all the time on the lookout for bad conditions, either indoors or out. They are constantly visiting tenements, schools, factories, and theaters, to see that they are well lighted and have plenty of fresh air, and that there are no conditions dangerous to the health of those who use them.
Where the Water Comes from and Where It Goes.—If you live on a small farm, you probably know very well where the water comes from. Perhaps you have to go out sometimes and draw it from the pump and bring in a pailful. If you live in the city, however, you have very likely never thought about it at all. When you want some water, you just turn on the tap and never think how the water always happens to be there, ready to flow out when you need it.
The water for a city comes from some lake or river or from large wells. It is often necessary to go many miles away to find the water, and to build great pipes to carry it to the city. The water for New York City, for instance, is brought in a water pipe so big that a large motor truck could easily drive through it (see Fig. 75). When such a pipe reaches the city, it branches into smaller and smaller pipes that run underground through the streets, and on at last to your house and up to your bathroom. Some one must see to the building of this water system, and some one must watch it all the time to see that the water is pure and good and that nothing harmful or poisonous gets into it.
Besides the water pipes, there is another set of pipes in the streets, to carry off the waste water after it has been used. They are called sewers; and these, too, must be laid carefully and kept in good repair. The dirty water that flows in them, called sewage, must be disposed of in some way, so that it will not create a nuisance or endanger health.
Guarding Our Food Supply.—Other foods, as well as water, must be carefully watched, so that they may not carry the germs of disease. So the Board of Health sends men out to see that everything is clean at the farms from which milk is sent in to the city. Other men inspect the stores where milk is sold, and the stores where all other kinds of food are sold, to see that they are kept in good condition and that no people who are sick with germ diseases are allowed to handle the milk or the other foods.
Caring for Those Who are Suffering from Germ Diseases.—Above all, it is the duty of the Board of Health to watch over the people who are actually suffering from germ diseases, so as to prevent, if possible, the further spread of the germs. As soon as a doctor finds that one of his patients has a disease of this kind, like diphtheria or scarlet fever or measles or whooping cough, he reports it at once to the Board of Health. The Board of Health then sees that the case is cared for, so that the rest of the family and other people outside will not be in danger.
In the case of many of these germ diseases, the Board of Health can supply the doctor with special preparations, called vaccines and sera, which will cure or prevent disease of this kind. One of these preparations is smallpox vaccine, which is rubbed into the skin of the arm to prevent smallpox—once a very common and terrible disease. Every child ought to be protected by smallpox vaccination. In the same way, older people can be protected against typhoid fever by typhoid vaccine. Any one who is so unfortunate as to catch diphtheria can be cured by the use of another of these preparations, called diphtheria antitoxin.
The War against Tuberculosis.—There is one germ which is such a very serious enemy of mankind that the Board of Health has special officers trained to fight against it. This disease is tuberculosis. It is a long word, but every one should know something of what it means.
The germ of tuberculosis lives most often in the lungs. The person who has the disease generally grows ,weak, thin, and feverish and has a cough. The germ is coughed up and spit out, in getting rid of the matter that gathers in the throat. One way of stopping the spread of tuberculosis is by teaching people who have this disease not to cough or spit carelessly, and teaching other people not to put into their mouths things that may be soiled with these germs.
Another very important way of stopping tuberculosis is by helping people to keep their bodies in a generally vigorous state of health, so that when the germ of tuberculosis does come along, it cannot gain a foothold. This germ is not really a very powerful one, and a person who is in thoroughly good health very rarely has this disease at all. It is people who are tired out or have had some other sickness, or those who do not have enough to eat, who catch it. Even people who have caught it can generally get well again, if they lead a thoroughly healthy life.
The Board of Health in many cities tries to teach every one about this disease, so that all can be on guard against it. It provides special places, called dispensaries, where people who feel unwell or have a cough can go, to see if they have tuberculosis. It also provides special hospitals, where people can be cured. If a person can find out at the beginning that he has this disease, he can almost always get well under proper care. He may have to go to a hospital; or he may be able to stay at home, if he does just what the doctor orders and has plenty of fresh air and rest and good food. It is only when the disease has gone too far that it is dangerous; and since people found this out, the fight against tuberculosis has gone on steadily and successfully.
Guarding the Health of School Children.—Almost all diseases are like tuberculosis in this: that they are most easily cured at the beginning, before the trouble has gone very far. If you make a hole in your stocking, it will be easy for Mother to mend it at first. If you let it go for several days without telling her, it will get bigger and bigger, and finally perhaps there will be nothing to do but to throw the pair of stockings away. It is just so with diseases. At first, the trouble can generally be cured; but if you wait too long, it may be too late.
This is why the Board of Health (or in many cities the School Board) has doctors and nurses in the schools to examine the children. These doctors and school nurses test the children's hearing and their eyesight, and look at their teeth and their throats, to see if any-thing is beginning to go wrong and ought to be remedied.
Every child ought to see clearly, near by and at a distance, to have keen hearing to sleep soundly and eat heartily, and to be full of the feeling of health and vigor. If you are not like this, if you have headaches or frequent colds, or sensitive teeth, there is something wrong. It is probable that the trouble can easily be remedied. In such a case, your mother should have a doctor see you, or your teacher should have the school doctor see you, for almost all children can be well and vigorous, if little troubles are cured at the beginning and if the right habits of life are formed. The Public Health Nurse. You children will probably go to school for several years more and will be learning new things all the time. When you finally leave school, perhaps you may think you know all there is to know! This will not be so—not even if you go to high school and college, and go on studying till you are a full grown man or woman. There will always be new things to learn; and the wise person keeps on learning as much as he can all through his life.
This is particularly true in health matters. New and better ways of fighting diseases and keeping people healthy are being found out all the time. So perhaps the most important of all the things the Board of Health does is to teach—not only children in the schools but grown people, like your fathers and mothers,—how to keep well.
The Board of Health does this by lectures and exhibits, by printing and giving away leaflets, and in many other ways. Perhaps the best way of all is by means of Public Health nurses. These nurses go out through the city, showing the people with germ diseases what they can do to keep from giving the diseases to others. They show the people with tuberculosis how they ought to take care of themselves, in order to be cured. They show the mothers just the best way of taking care of their young babies, so as to keep them well. The Public Health nurse is one of the most efficient officers in the army that fights against disease.
Janet's Argument.—Janet lived in a small city called Healthville, and her Uncle Jim and his children lived in a much bigger city, Richtown, about an hour's ride away on the train. Janet was very fond of her cousins and was delighted when she heard they were coming to pay her a visit. It seemed a long time till they arrived, and you may be sure she was all ready and watching at the door when Uncle Jim and the two little girls came up the street.
As soon as the visitors had come in and taken off their things, they sat down to talk, for Janet's mother and father had not seen Uncle Jim for a long time. He explained that there was a very bad epidemic of diphtheria in Richtown, so that all the schools had been closed; and that he had brought the children for a long visit, until the epidemic was over and it was safe to take them home.
Janet and her cousins were so happy in thinking of the good times they were to have together, and so busy in planning for all the things they were going to do, that Janet did not hear what the grown-ups were saying for a long time. When she did listen again, Uncle Jim was talking, as he often did, about what a fine place Richtown was. This was one thing about Uncle Jim that Janet never liked; for she thought Healthville, where she lived, was the nicest place on earth.
"We have just built a new hotel, fourteen stories high and fireproof," Uncle Jim was saying. "With the Opera House opposite, the Central Square is a fine sight. Now that we have the Carnegie Library and the new High School and all the Parks and Boulevards, there isn't a finer city in the whole Middle West."
"Well, there's one thing we have in Healthville that's better than Richtown, Uncle Jim," said Janet eagerly.
"What's that, child?" he asked smiling, as if he was quite sure she was mistaken.
" Our Board of Health," answered Janet. "You have so much diphtheria that your fine schools are all closed. But our teacher told us our Board of Health was so good that there hadn't been a case of diphtheria in the school in five years. Libraries and opera houses aren't any good if you are sick; and if you are well, you can have a good time anyway."