In September 1959 the Jersey Shore went to war – not against Russia or submarines, but against mosquitos. During that summer, newspapers in Korea had reported cases of an insect-borne disease called encephalitis, commonly known as sleeping sickness. A case was confirmed in New Jersey in August.
Trying to educate its readers on September 14th, the Passaic Herald News said, “The pesky mosquito that now thrives in humid summer weather is an ancient tormentor of mankind. … There are 138 species of mosquitoes in North America, and most of them bite people when they get the chance. “
But not all are a problem.
“The noblest males feed exclusively on flower nectar. Female mosquitoes use built-in detectors to search for human victims for radiant heat, moisture, and carbon dioxide emitted from their breath. When thin people give off more heat than others, they are prime targets. Dark skin is preferred to light. “
What are the dangers caused by mosquitoes?
“Mosquitoes are the most dangerous carriers of diseases in the world and the only pathogens of the microscopic organisms that produce malaria, yellow fever and dengue fever. Mosquitoes are also important in the spread of filariasis and encephalitis. … Mosquito-borne diseases once ravaged the United States. In 1793, Philadelphia lost a sixth of its population to a yellow fever epidemic. “
But before readers panic, the article said there was reason to stay calm.
“In the US, modern control techniques have turned mosquitoes from a threat to a nuisance, but malaria persists in isolated parts of the south. Although yellow fever has been eradicated, the disease occasionally rises northward from the Amazon rainforest. Constant vigilance is maintained to prevent disease-causing mosquitoes from entering the US by air. “
Reassured by the idea that it can’t happen here, most barely noticed the problem. But three days later the Tuckerton Beacon dropped a bomb.
“Richard ‘Ricky’ Driscoll of 4 South Green Street, Tuckerton, died last Friday morning at the US Public Health Hospital on Staten Island, where he had been removed from his home 48 hours earlier. The hospital gave the cause of death as “encephalitis” – probably due to polio.
“Ricky’s grandfather, John Shinn, was admitted to Shore Memorial Hospital in Somers Point on September 9th with the same illness. His condition is critical. “
Something unusual happened.
Harry K. Masters, 60, of Gifford Road in West Tuckerton, died Friday, September 11, of encephalitis, the culture of which is being studied by the State Department of Health to try to determine its origin.
“DR. Carmona said encephalitis is a virus of undetermined origin. It is inflammation of the brain and has a high fever.”
To stop the spread, some measures have been taken.
“DR. According to Carmona, the local doctors are looking for the symptoms of encephalitis. … Dr. Carmona said they have not yet shown any symptoms of the disease. The family is currently being quarantined to avoid contact with others. “
The nation became aware of the problem on September 23 when the Associated Press reported, “Atlantic City Hospital reports that four children have died in the past three weeks of encephalitis, commonly known as sleeping sickness. The hospital said last night that four other teenagers had the disease. One is in critical condition. … A hospital spokesman said the outbreak was not an epidemic. However, he found that typically only two or three cases of encephalitis are reported in this area in a year. However, state officials said the disease has not been present in New Jersey for many years. “
Asbury Park Press reported on the same day.
STAFFORD TOWNSHIP – The Department of Health is sending experts to parts of Ocean, Atlantic and Burlington counties to investigate an outbreak of encephalitis, a normally deadly virus infection of the brain.
“Seven deaths in the past three weeks – five of them children – have been attributed to the disease, also known as brain fever and sleeping sickness.”
It was a Manahawkin doctor who sounded the alarm.
“DR. Robert S. Irvin, health officer here, calls the outbreak serious. He was the first to alert authorities of the possibility of a major outbreak in this part of Ocean County.”
The federal government was unwilling to identify the problem.
“The US Public Health Service Hospital said the Driscoll boy died of polio. Dr. Benjamin Chester, assistant doctor in charge, said yesterday that the results of the autopsy remain unchanged. … Dr. However, Chester said virus cultures and other pathological samples were sent to the Federal Communicable Diseases Center in Atlanta, Georgia for analysis. He said no reports were received. It was learned yesterday by doctors of five other patients who were hospitalized with what appears to be encephalitis. “
Local officials wouldn’t wait for the federal government to act.
“The Ocean County Mosquito Control Commission has launched four DDT spray planes and asked all communities to keep their mosquito control equipment running around the clock until further notice. The disease is transmitted by mosquitoes. “
In the meantime, the struggle would affect everyone.
“Dr. Allen K. Brouwer, President of the Ocean County Mosquito Control Commission, advised parents last night to keep their children as far away from mosquito-infested areas as possible.
“He recommended using insect repellant on children who play outside and spraying play areas with DDT. … He said that cold days this weekend caused many communities to put away their mosquito control equipment, but if the weather stays as warm as yesterday, mosquitoes will continue to be a threat. “
The war had started. The federal government tested; The local government used the most modern weapon available, DDT. and the average family hoped for an early frost and a spray on their children.
Next week: epidemic or not?