The community of Summerland was affected by a diphtheria outbreak in 1911. (Summerland Museum image)

Diphtheria outbreak affected Summerland in 1911

Contagious bacterial infection had 10 per cent fatality rate

By David Gregory

Five years after Summerland was incorporated, our community experienced its first epidemic.

There had been isolated cases, of typhoid, scarlet fever and tuberculosis, but in 1911, Summerland had its first cluster of infectious disease: diphtheria.

Diphtheria is one of the dreaded childhood diseases. It is a contagious bacterial infection that damages the throat area and can obstruct breathing. This infection has a 10 per cent fatality rate.

On Dec. 9, 1911, the first case of diphtheria was reported and almost immediately a second case was found in the same house in Summerland.

Also on that same day, two other families had contacted diphtheria.

Reeve James Ritchie ordered closure of schools churches and any assemblies. The schools remained closed until after Christmas.

READ ALSO: Spanish influenza affected British Columbia

READ ALSO: Summerland has faced disease outbreak in the past

There was a planned assembly for the newly formed Boy Scouts that was also cancelled.

In 1911, a vaccine was not available. The only treatment for diphtheria was antitoxin.

The antitoxin was derived from serum taken from healthy horses that had previously been inoculated with diphtheria and had developed immunity. The antitoxin was most effective when given to patients at the earliest stage of infection.

In addition, the district of Summerland enforced procedures to reduce the spread of infection: isolation, house quarantine and house disinfection.

On Dec. 10, 10-year old Ruby Thompson, daughter of John and Ann Thompson, succumbed to the disease.

By Dec. 11, five additional families were affected. These families were ordered to remain in their homes and their homes disinfected.

Two days later, the administration of antitoxin began.

By Dec. 14, two more families with three to four cases were reported. The spread of diphtheria continued with two more infected families being reported.

Summerland’s medical officer, Dr. Charles Smith, ordered the quarantine of the family members to their houses and instructed the public to “keep away as far as possible from houses infected with diphtheria.”

The Summerland Review published the names of the families that were suspected of having diphtheria.

Smith speculated that the disease was brought to Summerland and spread first to the junior department of the school.

With the rapid administration of the antitoxin, the seriousness of the disease was reduced and eventually those infected by diphtheria recovered.

One patient who had a particularly slow and difficult time recovering from diphtheria was six-year old Bobby Hatfield, son of Seamus and Roberta Hatfield.

No further diphtheria cases were reported.

The schools were fumigated and disinfected. Hygiene practices within the school were improved.

The school’s “one common drinking cup” was replaced by a sanitary drinking fountain.

With the outbreak of diphtheria in several British Columbia communities, the province passed the School Medical Inspection Act of 1911.

All students were to have a medical exam once a year and the student’s health record would remain at the school.

The diphtheria epidemic prepared Summerland for the next epidemic/pandemic: the Spanish flu from 1918 to 1920.

In the earliest days of the epidemic in British Columbia, Summerland created a special hospital for flu patients and the hospital was operational when the first case of the Spanish flu was reported in the Summerland area.

A vaccine for diphtheria was eventually developed in 1926 and widely used in Canada by 1930.

Today, with Canada’s immunization programs, there have been only five cases of diphtheria in the last 20 years.

As for the slowly recovering diphtheria victim Bobby Hatfield, his full name was Harley Robert Hatfield.

He became one of this province’s preeminent historians. His specialty was historic trails.

He was the historian who rediscovered the settlement of the Priest site at Garnet Lake. Harley Hatfield was honoured by the province with the naming of Mt. Hatfield, a 2,227-metre mountain, located directly behind the Hope Slide.

David Gregory is a Summerland historian.

To report a typo, email:
news@summerlandreview.com
.



news@summerlandreview.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

history

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Dr. Charles Smith was Summerland’s medical officer during the diphtheria outbreak. (Summerland Museum photo)

Ruby Thompson, 10 years old, died from diphtheria in December, 1911. Others in the community were also affected by the outbreak. A vaccine for diphtheria was not developed until 1926. (Summerland Museum photo)

Just Posted

The Sicamous Eagles recently moved into the “Eagles’ Nest” dormitory behind the Sicamous and District Rec Centre. (Jim Elliot/Eagle Valley News)
Sicamous Eagles move into dormitory on arena grounds

The KIJHL hockey team’s billet system was strained by COVID-19 so they are piloting a new solution

After dragon boat races, the Carnation Ceremony remembers those who have died and those who are fighting cancer. This year, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Friends Abreast Dragon Boat team delivered 400 carnations to the staff at nine public schools, three SASCU offices and the women’s league at the curling rink as a reminder for women to book their mammogram appointments. (File photo)
Salmon Arm dragon boat team gives carnations as mammogram reminder

Breast cancer second leading cause of cancer death among Canadian women

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Interior Health reports 18 COVID-19 cases, highest daily count since July

The total of COVID-19 cases in the region is now at 662

A Kelowna clinic decided to immunize their patients in a drive-thru flu clinic earlier this month. (Twila Amato - Black Press Media)
Interior Health anticipates increase in flu vaccinations this season

Some 300,000 doses of flu vaccine ready for distribution across Southern Interior

Snow started falling early Oct. 23, 2020 to leave Salmon Arm and area with a wintery look. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)
Snow in Shuswap this early in October rare but no records broken

Environment Canada predicts clear weather in Salmon Arm for election day – Oct. 24

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Thanks to efforts by a Kelowna shelter and Elections BC, anyone who wishes to can vote in the 2020 BC Provincial Election, even if they don’t have a fixed address. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Kelowna group ensures people experiencing homelessness can vote

Shelter supervisor says voting ‘a fundamental right’ even for those without a fixed address

(Big White Ski Resort photo)
Big White receives 21 cm of snow in 24 hours

Resort’s snow base 41 cm deep, one month until opening day

The deer were allegedly shot within Princeton town limits, late at night. Black Press File Photo.
Armed man, in full camouflage, allegedly shoots deer in downtown Princeton

‘The list of charges goes on and on,’ said RCMP Sgt. Rob Hughes

Andrew Allen performed for two intimate crowds of 50 at the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre Oct. 17. (Camillia Courts Photography)
Live events continue on North Okanagan stage

First Andrew Allen plays two sold-out shows, next up have a laught with comedian Mike Delamont

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

Most Read