Treating Yellow Fever

You might be wondering, didn’t the United States eradicate Yellow Fever in the early 1900’s following the discovery that the disease was transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito and creation of a vaccine? You’d be right! However, in my Medicine in History class, we’re studying history from the inside out, granting validity to treatments, ways of thinking, and anatomy of historical medicine in order to analyze it. This entailed an assignment where I had to track my “symptoms” including being tired, having a strained quad, and a cold, and then act like an 18th century doctor, consulting diagnostic manuals and treatment recipe books in the Rare Books Library from the age of Galen and humoral medicine. I found out that I could treat my quad with what is called a fomentation by wrapping herbs in cloth, boiling them in water, then soaking them in wine before applying the mixture to my leg. Another way of studying from the inside out meant that during our recitation, a smaller group that meets outside of lecture with the guidance of a teaching assistant, our professor cooked us up a delicious (not actually) treatment for yellow fever.

We watched him as he made “Wine Whey.” He boiled milk and then added some dry Sherry wine. He waited until the alcohol cooked off, and the milk separated into curds and whey. He then strained the mixture and provided us each with a small cup of our treatment. The mixture was cloudy, with a brown-ish tint. We had a test-drinker, and then the rest of us followed in suit. If I had to say what wine whey tastes like, I’d tell you to imagine that you’re drinking sweet, liquid bread. To be honest, it wasn’t that bad. I’d take it anyday over grape cough syrup. But then again, I’d rather have a cough than yellow fever.

Overall, it was a great learning experience where I really got into the minds of the doctors and the patients, both cooking and taking the treatment. And bonus: I’m Yellow Fever free!

                -Brooke R, C'19