It has occurred to us, in view of the fact of the inefficiency of the officers of the Department of Public Health, and the almost daily development of recklessness in their treatment of evils which are open to public inspection, that there must be a vast amount of injury inflicted upon the suffering poor and others, whose miseries are unknown to the world. Little is known indeed how much injustice is committed, and how much useless and wantonly-inflicted misery is endured by thousands, in our midst from the ignorance and heart-lessness of the members of the Board of Health, and others having charge of the sani-tary'condition of our city and public institutions. An infected ship is allowed to remain at the very entrance to our harbor for months without the least effort being made to destroy the pestilence which she contains, until finally, when all her stores and contents are thoroughly surcharged with the endemical agent, and the heat of summer so f avorable'to the spread of contagion has arrived, life is wantonly endangered by sending persons on board to rake out from a malarious atmosphere, the accu-, mulations of many months ofpent-up disease, ?and to deposit them where there is a strong liability of their producing further contamination. The last act of neglect on the part of our health-wardens is noticed in a late number of the New York Daily Times. It appears from the statement of that journal that smallpox has prevailed to a great extent for six months past, and from January 1st to the last week in June, four hundred and twenty-five persons have died with it. Assuming what physicians say is true, that under unfavorable circumstances, the ratio of mortality from smallpox is not over one to ten, we have the startling fact that four thousand two hundred and fifty persons have suffered, been marked and otherwise injured by this most virulent disease, in six months, most of which could have been prevented by an early quarantine of the disease, and a proper enforcement of the system of vaccination heretofore observed. Most of these cases are among the poorer class of the community, who, while they are more liable from their manner of life to take an infectious disease, are yet less careful to avoid its contaminating influence. Why, then, has not a proper system of vaccination been enforced among these unfortunate people ? The employment of a few physicians of acknowledged merit to visit every household in the city would have greatly abated the evil, and have been a praiseworthy expenditure of money. We are unfeelingly told by the health officers that the diseases of the poor are brought on by their own criminal neglect. We are all sensible how much the amelioration and care of such patients depends upon the skill and humanity of those whose duty it is to administer to them, and that much of the evil complained of may have arisen from the want of these qualities. If the abuses lately developed could exist in the public proceedings of the Board of Wardens, with all the means of correction which their public action commands, how must we shudder to think of what cruelty and injury may, and most probably does exist in the carrying out of the more private acts of these unworthy and ignorant conservators of the public health.
This article was originally published with the title "Smallpox and the Poor" in Scientific American 13, 45, 357 (July 1858)