Celebrating Alabama's Bicentennial 200

by Dr. Tom Vaughan '55 | Dean Emeritus

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In the Summer issue, Apocrypha discussed the Bicentennial of Alabama’s statehood and 19th-century Alabama. We continue with the 1800s, focusing on our rich veterinary medicine history.

Meanwhile, what was going on in the world of veterinary medicine?

Drawing on accounts by Bert Bierer published in 1939 on animal plagues of North America from 1800 to 1866, before the U.S. Department of Agriculture was established in 1862, we find diseases such as hoof disease of cattle and horses due to eating hay affected with ergot; worm in the head of sheep; epidemics of unknown origin among swine; salivary defluxions in horses; yellow water and epidemic sore throat among horses; Texas fever of cattle; hydrophobia in dogs; burnt tongue of cattle and horses; canine distemper; bighead disease (osteoporosis) of horses; mad itch in cattle; anthrax among cattle; buffalo gnats in horses; hog cholera; actinomycosis in cattle; equine encephalomyelitis; trichinosis in swine; shipping fever of horses; contagious pleuropneumonia in cattle; and glanders in horses. Of course, rabies (hydrophobia), anthrax, some encephalitides, trichinosis, and glanders were zoonoses, and Louis Pasteur’s proof of the germ theory was yet years away.

Retreating to an earlier period of history, the Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries questioned traditional doctrines and barriers and emphasized the empirical method in science. The ruinous plagues of rinderpest that decimated cattle and sheep populations in the wake of war, and the public outcry to the deaths of 200 million cattle in Europe between 1711 and 1779, pressured governments to take action and led directly to the first schools of veterinary medicine in the French schools at Lyon in 1762 and Alfort in 1765.

[In July 2019, Dr. Tony Frazier, Alabama State Veterinarian, reported that an outbreak in China of African Swine Fever—a close cousin of hog cholera only recently eradicated from the U.S.—had necessitated the culling of more than a million pigs, with “some projections that over 200 million could die or be culled in China due to ASF.

In a recent update, as of October 15, Dr. Frazier, in communication with Dr. Doug Meckes, North Carolina State Veterinarian, reported that pig inventories in China (the world’s biggest pork-producing and consuming nation) had plunged 39 percent in August from a year earlier. That equates to a loss of 167 million animals, based on the 428 head the USDA estimates China had at the end of 2018 (Washington Post 10.01.19). See also, JAV M A Ne ws, pp. 866-867, Oct. 15, 2019.

Reminiscent of the historical plagues that decimated humans and animals alike, such as the Black Death plague (Yersenia pestis) of 14th-century China and 17th-century Europe, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse—war, famine, pestilence, and death—are always there, whether on the battlefield or biding their time in the stable.]

Other schools followed in Germany, Italy, Sweden, and Denmark. The first English veterinary school was founded in London in 1791, followed in 1820 with the Royal Dick School at Edinburgh. Two of its graduates, Andrew Smith and Duncan McEachran, founded the first veterinary schools in North America in the Ontario Veterinary College (1862) and the Montreal Veterinary College (1866), respectively, while a third graduate, James Law, became the first veterinary professor in the U.S. when he began teaching biology and veterinary classes at Cornell University in 1868.

Described by J.F. Smithcors in his classic The Veterinarian in America 1625-1975, the first friends of veterinary medicine were, oddly enough, two physicians, Benjamin Rush, M.D. and James Mease, M.D., and a judge, R ichard Peters, all from Philadelphia. They were strong advocates and influential voices that called for a formal education for veterinarians to elevate and identify a profession distinct and separate from the blacksmith-farrier that the public had become dependent upon. Representing the latter was William Carver, who in 1820 published his Practical Horse Farrier, Shewing The Best Method to Preserve The Horse in Health, based on his 40 years of experience, and published in Philadelphia. This was attended by others urging every man to be his own horse doctor.

In tribute to what have been called the “veterinary physicians” of the 19th century, three names command special attention: Edward Jenner (1749-1823), Louis Pasteur (1822-1895), and Robert Koch (1843-1910). Jenner claims credit for studies that led directly to small pox vaccination. Pasteur presided over the funeral of the theory of spontaneous generation of diseases and gave birth to the germ theory and the advent of modern medicine. He developed the first attenuated vaccines and immunization against fowl cholera, rabies, and anthrax, and demonstrated the agents of pneumococcal and staphylococcal infections. Koch also advanced methods of dealing with anthrax, but is best known for having isolated the bacterial agents of tuberculosis, cholera, wound infections, and foot and mouth disease—the first known filterable virus of animals.

The veterinary writings available to well after the mid-19th century did not address principal livestock diseases of the U.S. Rather, the agricultural press increased from one publication in 1819 to more than 30 in 1840, as exemplified by The American Farmer in 1819.

An exception was George Dadd, M.D., V.S., a prolific, if controversial figure born in England in 1813 but placed in Boston by 1845. Dadd produced no fewer than 10 books on veterinary medicine in addition to his American Veterinary Journal and others. He was the first American veterinarian to use general anesthesia in practice (a mixture of ether and chloroform), to successfully spay a mare, and to perform cesarean sections in swine.

One of the most notable surgeons was T.C. “Farmer” Miles, billed as “the best castrator in the world,” who from 1830 until 1884 or thereabouts performed inguinal cryptorchectomies and spayed mares, as he claimed, from coast to coast and from Texas to Canada. Interestingly, his ethics were commended by no less than Merillat and Campbell and in the U.S. Veterinary Journal.

Another event worth noting was the great influenza epizootic of horses in 1871-72 that paralyzed transportation and commerce in New York City and Boston and necessitated the use of oxen to provide some relief. Reported every spring and fall since 1856, in 1873, the epizootic was remarkably fatal among the mules and asses of the West and the South, running as high as 30 to 70 percent, and raging on the Pacific coast.

An outbreak of contagious pleuropneumonia in American cattle occurred because of lax federal regulation of contagious and infectious diseases. Only when Great Britain imposed an embargo in 1879 on the importation of all American cattle for slaughter and several other European countries exercised the same sanction for trichinae in pork was the United States government prodded into action (by American commodity groups) to establish the Bureau of Animal Industry in 1884 under the direction of Daniel E. Salmon, finally coming to grips with the important plagues and zoonoses as well as public nuisances. These efforts included regulation of slaughterhouses and the milk supply and better methods of waste disposal. The first federal meat inspection law was passed in 1890, with additional legislation in 1891 providing for antemortem and postmortem veterinary inspection of animals slaughtered for foreign and interstate trade. Campaigns were launched against Texas fever, hog cholera, foot-and-mouth disease, and bovine tuberculosis to name a few. A footnote to the initial problem is that contagious bovine pleuropneumonia was introduced to the U.S. by a cow off a British ship.

The world-wide scourge of malaria, known since antiquity, was not to be solved until Fred Kilborne and Cooper Curtice of the B.A.I., working under Salmon and Theobald Smith, M.D., proved ticks to be the arthropod vector of Texas fever, the first demonstration of insect-borne disease in medicine, which opened the door to explanation of the pathogenesis of malaria, plague, typhus, yellow fever, and numerous hemorrhagic fevers and encephalatides.

Auburn’s own Charles A. Cary deserves kudos for his contributions to the furtherance of one medicine. In his original exchanges in 1891 with President William Leroy Broun, a condition for his coming to Auburn was that he be allowed to continue with graduate studies in Europe in the laboratories of Robert Koch and Louis Pasteur, when Germany and France were the fountainheads of human and veterinary medicine of the day. An immediate benefit of this association was that Alabama was one of the first states in the Union to institute the use of tuberculin for detection of bovine tuberculosis and the application of public meat and milk inspection and the pasteurization process. Prior to this, T.B. was the leading cause of human morbidity, particularly in the young. As professor of veterinary science in the College of Agriculture, subsequently dean of the new College of Veterinary Medicine, and State Veterinarian, Cary exerted tremendous influence on the public health, animal agriculture, and veterinary medicine.

So, from the days of hollow horn and hollow tail in cattle, horse catarrh, lockjaw and blind staggers, epidemic distemper in dogs and cats, and surgery on the dog’s tongue to prevent and cure rabies, until the establishment of the profession with the first five schools in the last 20 years of the 19th century (Iowa, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Cornell, and Washington), veterinary medicine had emerged from the Dark Ages and experienced its own renaissance that coincided with a new nation’s liberation from European domination.

In 100 years (1800-1900), the nation had fought four wars (1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War, and the Spanish-American War); had won the Southwest from Texas to California; had tripled the number of states (from 15 in the 18th century to 45 by 1896); had extended its boundaries by nearly as much; and had endured six economic depressions. In the 60 years between 1841 and 1901, five presidents died in office, three by assassination. Alabama also had to contend with the Creek Indian War of 1836, the year the village of Auburn was founded, and the panics of 1819 and 1837. Yet, determination prevailed and saw the live birth of the State of Alabama, the city of Auburn, the land-grant college of Alabama, and conception of the first College of Veterinary Medicine in the entire southern United States, a fitting denouement to the 19th century.


Yr humbl & obdt svt


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