VICKSBURG FACTS: How Vicksburg survived the 1873 pandemic

Published 8:00 am Friday, November 18, 2022

By Vera Ann Fedell | The Vicksburg Post

Did you know about Vicksburg’s dengue fever pandemic in 1873?

Dengue fever is a virus transmitted by an infected Aedes mosquito bite according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website on Dengue and Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever. Typically, this virus is found in tropical areas; However, there were many cases reported in the Southeastern region of the United States in the early 1870s.

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Dengue fever can range from mild to severe cases and the symptoms often included fever, bone and joint pain, rash, weakness, nausea, abdominal pain, sore throat, cough and several other flu-like symptoms, according to the CDC. Usually, symptoms would last three to four days before the patient could fully recover. 

Those affected by the fever usually lived or traveled to port areas. Many Vicksburg newspapers reported on the rivermen’s symptoms of dengue fever and sometimes yellow fever. During late 1873, Vicksburg’s river port was feeling the effects of the pandemic not just physically but also financially, along with some other shortcomings.

As mentioned in the Vicksburg Daily Herald’s Friday morning Oct. 24, 1873 edition, it was reported that “What with yellow fever, dengue, money stringency and low water, the fall business is retarded almost beyond precedent, and extreme dullness pervades every branch of business.”

Major port cities like St. Louis and New Orleans were reported to have extreme case numbers of dengue fever that also were hurting the steamboat crew’s pocketbook and making it harder for business to continue. 

Many sufferers of dengue fever did survive. However, many newspaper articles expressed how the people of Vicksburg would rather not go through the chills and fever of the sickness again. In an article from Oct. 19, 1873, in the Vicksburg Herald, a reporter changed the name from dengue to “Dang-You” to express the citizen’s thoughts and opinions of the pandemic.

According to that same article, many Vicksburgers were only confined to their beds for two to three days and would not bother to call in the physician for treatment. Instead, most treatments focused on “careful nursing.”

Other effects of the pandemic include dengue fever inspiring some writers to use the fever to help describe the character in their stories. One writer in the Oct. 26, 1873, Vicksburg Herald told the story of a man who was poor and stricken with dengue fever, hallucinating about his heroic adventures before waking up from his fever dream. 

Soon, dengue fever began to fade due to colder temperatures during the winter months; however, this was not Vicksburg’s last time to be in a dengue fever pandemic. Several more pandemics occurred in the Southeastern region during the 20th century. It was reported in a 1922 Vicksburg Evening Post article that the Mississippi Board of Health mandated a quarantine to prevent the spread of dengue fever. During the 20th century, Mississippians were better prepared on what to expect from the viruses and discovered ways how to recover faster.

As mentioned in the Vicksburg Evening Post from Oct. 27, 1922, it was reported that “the quickest way to regain your strength and weight from the dengue fever was according to the best authorities, through blood, nerves and stomach, which you can do with Ironized Yeast.”