CHAPTER THREE Cimex Lectularius
It was at the end of the nineteenth century that enterprising researchers began looking outside the theory of contagion for the cause of malaria, typhoid, and smallpox. They traced typhoid to contaminated water, and trailed malaria to its lair in the proboscis of the female mosquito; and they tracked smallpox over many trails, until they found it hidden in the bed. Cimex lectularius was its host.
Cimex lectularius is a formidable name for the little brown-shelled creature known commonly as the bedbug. The name was given to the insect generations ago in Italy where, incidentally, smallpox has been a scourge since early times. "Cimex" is the Latin word for bug, and "lectularius" simply means bed or couch.
While Cixnex lectularius is innocent in appearance, he has been a deadly assassin of the human race. The mystery story of all times could be woven about his insidious assault upon mankind. He has committed the perfect crime. He has gone undetected while the blame for his crimes has been attributed by the greatest medical scientists to an invisible air-borne germ lurking in the microscopic depths of matter.
This "innocent" bug, since time immemorial, has been the bedfellow of the human race. Grudgingly, yet with resignation, people have let him have his small feast of blood. They never suspected that as he feasted he left at the banquet table the lethal virus of smallpox. Aside from those he killed, he marked the faces of millions; turned beauty into a pock-marked mask. For generations, these pitted millions blemished the racial streams of the world.
Science moved quickly and effectively to exterminate the malaria-carrying mosquito; and sanitary engineers tackled the problem of water purification. Why then did they not move with equal dispatch against the greatest of all killers the bedbug?
Economically, when Cimex lectularius was exposed as the carrier of smallpox, the manufacturing of serums had grown into a profitable industry. The vaccination of every child before entering school had become an established practice. Many states and cities had enacted laws and regulations making it compulsory. Practically every doctor in the land was finding vaccination a lucrative part of his practice. Medicine had put the stamp of its authority upon this procedure.
Thus, when Drs. Campbell, Watts, and others at the turn of the century brought forth the startling facts of their findings on the cause of smallpox, their reports and writings were overlooked. They had made a major discovery. It would protect the cameo beauty of the children of the future. It would remove the dread of death and scarification, and safeguard people everywhere in the world from the pollution in the needle.
It was Dr. Charles A. R. Campbell, of San Antonio, Texas, who first directed attention to the bedbug as a carrier of smallpox virus. He was an outstanding scientist of his generation. The San Antonio Light, in an article as late as October 29, 1946, referred to Dr. Campbell in these words:
"The value of bats as a mosquito eradicator was first discovered by the late Dr. Charles A. R. Campbell, a San Antonio scientist. He was recommended for the Nobel prize in recognition of the service he had rendered the world in mosquito eradication."
The stature of the San Antonio doctor was also recognized by The Saturday Evening Post of May 29, 1948, when it published an article telling of the prevailing interest of naturalists and students of Americana in his methods of combating malaria.
Branching into three specific fields of research, typhoid, malaria, and smallpox, Dr. Campbell made notable contributions to each. As Health Officer, and Bacteriologist in control of the Pest House in San Antonio, he had ample opportunity to study smallpox; and devoted his keen and penetrating intellect to the problems of discovering its cause, whether it was contagious or infectious, and the efficacy of vaccination. Finally, in a paper presented to the Bexar Medical Society, he identified the carrier, stated that the disease is neither infectious nor contagious, and declared that vaccination does not prevent smallpox.
The following excerpts are from that report, which he included later in his book, Bats, Mosquitoes & Dollars.
Dr. Campbells extensive experiments led him to the conviction that "bedbugs are the only diffusing agents of this loathsome disease," and that "our present knowledge of its being air-borne, or of its being transmitted by fomites, must be all wrong." First, he sought to demonstrate its non-contagiousness by means of clothing, bedding, hangings . .
and used himself as subject. He was finally able to report:
"As even the air itself, without contact, is considered sufficient to convey this disease, and touching the clothes of a smallpox patient considered equivalent to contracting it, I exposed myself with the same impunity as my pesthouse keeper, who is immune, having had the smallpox:"
Dr. Campbell went from house to house where there were victims of the disease, removing them to the pest house, under legal authority, and "never conveyed this disease to my family, nor to any of my patients or friends, although I did not disinfect myself or my clothes nor take any precautions whatever, except to be sure that no bedbugs got about my clothing."
Another experiment was to beat a rug thoroughly in a small room from which had just been removed a smallpox patient. He remained in the dust-stufling room for thirty minutes, "inhaling particles of organic as well as micro-organic matter," thus representing the respiratory as well as digestive systems as accepted avenues of infection. Upon a microscopic examination of his sputum the following morning he found "cotton and woolen fibres, pollen, and comminuted manure, as also bacteria of many kinds." From that time on, he mingled freely with his patients and his friends but none of them contracted the disease.
Next, he exposed two city carpenters, two laborers, and himself to the germs of an outhouse that had been used at the pest house for smallpox patients only, for five years. Three of the workers had not been vaccinated and the fourth only in infancy. He reported concerning that unaesthetic job:
"It was constructed of 1 x 12 inch slats and boards. With hatchets and levers the old structure was soon razed, and the foul-smelling lumber was carried by each of us a distance of one hundred yards and neatly reconstructed.
"As the day was very hot and our water supply some distance from the work, I placed a bucket of water about ten feet from the work and in such a direction with the wind that the dust from the sawing and nailing of the old boards would fall into the water. Of course, the laborers did not observe my object in so doing, and they and myself all drank freely of the water until noon. After dinner all of us worked on that foul-smelling structure and drank of that same water until evening, when the work was completed."
The doctor had these men under observation for fourteen days, but neither he nor they took the smallpox.
It was the custom in San Antonio at that time to burn any laundry that happened to be found at the home of a Negro washwoman when the disease struck some member of the Negro family, the owners of the clothing being reimbursed from public funds. In five cases, Dr. Campbell took the clothes to the detention hospital, spread them out on the grass, and examined them for bedbugs. Finding them free of bugs, he returned them to the owners without any disinfection whatever. These clothes, did not convey disease to anyone.
But most startling of all was his work in the detention hospital. First, he made sure that there was not a bedbug in the place, or that none was carried in by the patients. Then he repeatedly allowed well members of a family to mingle with relatives in various stages of smallpox illness. No one ever caught the disease in this manner. Specific cases that he gave in his report to the Baxar Medical Society, and in his subsequent book, are well worth quoting here.
"Anita H., a Mexican child, four years of age, never vaccinated and who had never had the disease, was taken to the pest house, where she took a baby out of the crib and played with it about four hours, hugging and kissing it and riding it in a perambulator around the grounds; but, although this baby was covered with pustules of smallpox, and although we took no precautions whatever (the girls mother having agreed to this experiment), the girl did not acquire the disease."
Another case was brought to the detention hospital in a vesicular stage, remaining until recovery and the routine dismissal. Of the subsequent test in this case, Dr. Campbell reported:
"In this case I caused the bed clothes of his bed to be undisturbed when he recovered. The same bed, without any change in the bed clothes, was then occupied by L.M. This individual had never been vaccinated nor had smallpox, and understood that he occupied this bed as an experiment. He did not acquire the disease."
A family of six were taken into the detention hospital, since three of the children acquired smallpox and the family did not wish to be separated. The parents had had the disease but the fourth had escaped it. The family remained in the one room for the period of six weeks eighteen days after the period of desquamation of the case that developed last.
They were returned home, the one child not having acquired the disease during the six-weeks constant exposure. However, upon the fifth day after returning home, this child acquired the initial fever. The doctor then examined their house and found it to be "literally alive" with bedbugs.
Dr. Campbell had at the Pest House half a dozen employees who did the washing and scrubbing. He had employed these people because, as he explained, they were "non immune" and yet none of them ever contracted the disease.
The night watchman, vaccinated in infancy, frequently mingled with the patients, keeping up the fires and remaining all night, but did not contract the disease. Nor did the man whom he designated as "A.C., never vaccinated nor had the smallpox," but who mingled with the patients in all the stages, playing cards with them and eating and sleeping in the infected tents. He told of two children, aged eleven and nine years, one vaccinated in infancy, the other never successfully, who played with the children at the Pest House in all stages of the disease without the least harm.
Among the patients coming under his observation and care was a girl of eleven years who developed smallpox after arriving at a San Antonio hotel. The doctor took this patient and her father and mother to the Pest House, locking the door of their room at the hotel and leaving orders that no one be allowed to enter it until his return. This room had been occupied two days and two nights by the patient. Upon his return, Dr. Campbell carefully inspected the bed and the entire room, particularly the walls and ceiling, and not finding any bedbugs, told the hotel proprietor that the room was again all right: and it was from that time on occupied. All of the occupants were kept under observation, but not a case developed in any of the persons occupying the room.
Another case described by the doctor was that of a little girl who was seized by the disease about eight hours before reaching San Antonio. This little patients family consisted of her father, mother, and brother eight years old. He took them all to the Pest House. The man he allowed to leave and go to the city, as he pleased: and, with the doctors consent, he procured a horse and buggy and took his wife riding every day. At night they went to the theatre, returning to the Pest House to sleep. The father bought a doll for the little girl; and she played with it, being at the time thoroughly covered with smallpox. She made a dress for this doll, slept with it at night, kissed it, and played with it constantly, until about the fourth day, when she became displeased with it; and after some consultation her father returned it to the store where it was purchased and exchanged it for a larger doll. The clerk from whom the purchase was made was kept under secret observation for a long time; but nothing developed from the exchange.
In one instance at the Pest House a blanket used by a Mexican woman who was ill with smallpox was inadvertently given to the wife of one of the keepers and she used it for a cover for her baby three weeks old, wrapping him snugly in it. The mistake was not discovered for a week yet the baby did not contract the disease.
After making a great many of these experiments, Dr. Campbell invited the City Council and other officers of the city government to the Pest House. These officials were familiar with the experimental work he was doing. Several of them made laudatory speeches of the experiments. Evidently they had faith in what he was doing for they visited the Pest House without fear and attended a banquet honoring Dr. Campbell. They remained two or three hours in an atmosphere charged with smallpox, and even contacted patients directly, yet all escaped the disease.
In his report to the Bexar Medical Association, Dr. Campbell made it clear that he had destroyed the bedbug population of the institution before launching upon his experiments.
It was only natural that Dr. Campbell, being a national scientific figure, came into frequent contact with the leading minds of his generation. Among his associates for many years was J. A. L. Waddell, D.E., LL.D., who became a staunch admirer, and attempted with vigor to direct world attention upon the spectacular and thorough researches of the San Antonio physician. In one of his papers, Waddell says:
"The writer has long felt that the results of Dr. Campbells wonderful and interesting nature studies should be brought to the attention not only of the medical profession throughout the world but also of those intelligent, thinking people who are interested in the works of nature and of the methods of utilizing them for the benefits of mankind."
Waddell tells of his first meeting with Dr. Campbell and of how a recital of the doctors complete and painstaking experiments on bedbugs and smallpox convinced him of the doctors claims. The writer deviates to recount some personal experiences among French Canadians, who at that period were much afflicted with smallpox. He pointed out that most of their houses were overrun with bedbugs also that the Canadian Indians were much afflicted with that dread disease, which they often contracted by going into abandoned tepees or huts. "This," he explained, "is so well known in the Canadian wilds that such old habitations are avoided with dread and passed with a shudder. Old, disgarded clothing has long been recognized as a carrier of contagion, although nobody in Canada had ever dreamed of the transmission of the disease being due to insects, in spite of the fact that such abandoned huts and clothing were known to contain bedbugs."
Waddell tells of Dr. Campbells desire to go to Mexico in order to experiment upon prison inmates, who would be given their liberty after investigations were finished. There were no laws in Mexico at that time preventing such experiments. The physician-scientist was seeking a grant of $12,000 to carry out that project. Waddell tried to raise the money for him from several sources but failed. Finally Dr. Campbell called upon one of the directors of the Rockefeller Institute. After this individual listened to the doctors request, Waddell describes him as holding up his hands in horror and exclaiming, "What! Furnish you with money to experiment upon human beings! What do you think the American people would say, were I to do such a thing as that?"
Concluding his article, Waddell said: "In my opinion, Dr. Campbell has proved beyond the peradventure of a doubt that smallpox is transmitted in one way only by the bite of an infected bedbug, or possibly in rare cases by that of another blood-sucking insect, the chinche volante."
At the conclusion of his long and thorough experimentations, Dr. Campbell arrived at two important conclusions. 1. That smallpox is transmitted only by the bite of an infected bug. 2. That perversion of nutrition determines the degree of virulence.
Of the first, he said: "In all of the cases of smallpox that have originated here I have always found bedbugs; and where patients suffering with this disease were brought here (to the Pest House) and placed in premises free from these vermin, the disease did not spread to persons living with the patient. This has occurred in all stages of the disease."
On nutrition he had this to say: "The most important observation on the medical aspect of this disease is the cachexia with which it is invariably associated and which is actually the sole requisite for its different degrees of virulence. I refer to the scorbutic (relating to scurvy the disease caused by lack of green food) cachexia . . . The removal of this perversion of nutrition will so mitigate the virulence of this malady as positively to prevent the pitting or pocking of smallpox."
Although Dr. Campbell was never able to obtain the funds for pursuing his program in Mexico that plague-swept border neighbor his work was carried on by Dr. J. A. Watts of San Antonio, who spent several years in that country and was thrown constantly in contact with smallpox. In a paper read before the Bexar County Medical Society, Dr. Watts disparaged the results of vaccination "by points and serum," and particularly the vaccination methods adopted by the government of Mexico. "The lack of care in taking the pus; the disregard to the clinical health of the subjects and the severely sore arms from mixed infection placed it where my using it was impossible." A record of all cases vaccinated showed a failure of 80 per cent. Dr. Watts used all known means of stamping out the disease, except isolation. This he could not impose since the government did not impose quarantines. Becoming interested in Dr. Campbells theory of the transmission of smallpox, he redoubled his fight to rid his community of the malady. This he did by an educational campaign against bedbugs. In reporting the results of this effort, he said: "Where I was able to do this or where I found a house free from bedbugs, I never had a second case of smallpox occur. I allowed and even encouraged free intermingling of families after I was positive that no bugs existed, and in each case had no recurrence of the disease."
In 19078 an epidemic broke out during which the doctor mingled freely with his family, friends, patients, and smallpox sufferers. "I never," he reported, "employed any of the methods recommended, such as changing, robing, disinfection during or after visits. I also had the closest possible relations with my boy, who even accompanied me on my rounds when I went to see these cases, he, of course, remaining in the buggy."
Two years later the boy was "successfully" vaccinated by his grandfather in San Antonio, which determined that he was not "immune."
Dr. Watts recited many cases where free mingling of members of families with smallpox victims was allowed under his watchfulness, after the bug-killing process was executed. In all of the cases, none acquired the disease. One case was designated as L.R. age 20 years. Dr. Watts says:
"Seen in initial stage. I remudded his house and cleaned it with bichloride solution. No case developed among any other members of this family, although three children, his wife, and his brothers wife and mother lived there. Also about twenty relatives visited him during his illness. All of these were patients of mine and personally known to me."
In the case of C.C., aged 10, he reported:
"Well developed when first seen. I ordered the house cleaned up under police supervision. His brother developed the disease three days afterwards, but no other case occurred here, although three girls, the mother and grandmother occupied this cave."
Another case was "J.A. Aged one year. Some ten children lived here in three rooms. After several hours of hard work at extermination and cleaning up I was rewarded by no new cases developing here."
Many more cases were recited in Dr. Watts report, all of them with the same convicting results. Following the presentation of these cxperiments of Drs. Campbell and Watts, the Bexar County Medical Society adopted the following resolution:
"Resolved, that we express our entire confidence in Dr. Campbells experiments and clinical observations tending to show that the bedbug is the sole conveyer of smallpox, as the body-louse is of typhus fever, and we believe that further experience will lead to its complete demonstration."
Fifty years ago, bedbugs were a common household pest, from the wilds of the Canadian Northwest to the teepees and caves and homes of luxury of our border neighbors on the South; from Manhattans swank hotels to the cushioned luxury-trains of Pullman, and across the sweeps of prairie to the Gold Coast. Only the most fastidious housewife kept free of them, and she must be forever on the lookout. Coats and wraps of guests were carefully hung on halltrees lest the visitor might inadvertently leave a bug if thrown across the bed. Home furnishings were against cleanliness a half-century ago, from the massive, ornate furniture, to the straw-filled mattresses and straw-padded rag carpets; from the source of water in the rain-barrel and the old oaken bucket, to the cream crock and pans, of milk cooling behind screens in the cellar. Flies bred in the tidiest of privies and mosquitoes hatched in the rain-barrel. Housewives struggled from dawn until midnight, but the plague caught up with them, despite vaccinations. The Boston Post of January 2, 1934, gave an illuminating account of this hopeless struggle.
"The first compulsory vaccination law was passed by Massachusetts in 1855. It required that every infant must be vaccinated before reaching the age of two years: that no child should be admitted to any public school unless vaccinated; that all inmates of public institutions must be vaccinated; that the employees of all manufacturing corporations must be vaccinated as a prerequisite to employment and, to cap the climax, everyone must be vaccinated every five years. What was the result? In the twenty years following the enactment of this law there were 4221 deaths from smallpox in Massachusetts. The protection afforded by this law did not highly recommend itself to the people, and in time it was pretty much ignored, so that finally in 1908 the infant vacci nation requirement was repealed without protest by anyone and without any bad results."
Other states observed similar disheartening results. Epidemics occurred and vaccinated persons, serene in the delusion of safety, were struck down by the virulent killer.
Today, the bedbug has all but vanished from this vacuumed and disinfected land of ours.
And smallpox is so rare that thousands of younger doctors have never seen a case of the disease. But the practice of vaccination is as popular as it was in the days of the plague. It is even more popular, since the proof is gone that vaccination does not prevent smallpox. There is no smallpox to prevent. Why, then, does the vaccination fetish persist? We must find the answer in economics in the billiondollar serum industry and its correlative industry, medical practice. This book would not be written but for the alarming increase of encephalitis, syphilis, poliomyelitis and cancer all of these diseases of virus infiltration into the blood and tissues of the body. Heart disease and cancer are death-dealing afflictions of alarming increase.
We knew where to look for these viruses when food was cooled in damp cellars, and drinking water contained the seepage from privies, and mosquitoes and bedbugs inhabited the dwellings of man. But today we have hidden them in a sterilized phial and we inject them into the body with a disinfected needle. Then we play blind-mans buff and set out in frantic search for the ultra-microscopic pests. We do this so scientifically, and at such great expense, and with so much pomp that we create a great illusion; and courageous, indeed, is the man who dares to decry the practice.
But thoughts of the disease still strike terror in the hearts of countless people; and boards of health grow panicky with its approach. This happened in the vast metropolis of New York in March, 1947, when a solitary suspected case so frightened health officials that they brought about the mass vaccination of more than five million persons.
In a story, Smallpox, The Killer That Stalked New York, the Cosmopolitan Magazine for April, 1948, gives a graphic description of what happened.
The patient who died of the disease was Jean LeBar, an exporter of leather goods from Mexico. He was hospitalized in New York and treated for a rash. He had been vaccinated in childhood, and carried in his pocket a certificate showing a recent vaccination, on crossing the border. Thus, supposedly, he was immune. The greatest dermatologists in the metropolis diagnosed his rash variously. One doctor said he suspected drug rash, since LeBar, being ill on his trip from Mexico, had taken a variety of phenobartitols and other pain-killing and sleep-inducing compounds. Another doctor thought the patient had "ricketsailpox," a newly discovered disease transmitted by mites.
None thought LeBar had smallpox, but when a few rash cases developed in the hospital where he had died, the doctors were wary. They examined these and it took a young doctor to put the seal of smallpox upon them when he said, "Ive never seen it myself, but this looks like smallpox."
It was Dr. Ralph Muckenfuss, chief of the citys virus laboratory, who finally announced that LeBar had died of smallpox, and started the panic. In the course of a few hours after his pronouncement, members of the health department appeared before the mayor. Their conference is described as follows in Cosmopolitan:
"Drs. Bernecker and Weinstein outlined their program of mass vaccination, millions of doses of vaccine and hundreds of doctors to give them; health centers and police stations to handle the crowds; press and radio to spread the word. Smallpox might ravage the city, spread through the state, close up the port of New York, Dr. Weinstein declared. Besides, Dr. Bernecker added, there never was a better chance to immunize the whole city at once.
How much will it cost? asked the mayor. Not more than a half million, the doctors said.
And so the doctors of the city were enlisted and began one of the most phantasmagoric experiments of all times. Even though LeBar had been dead and cremated for three weeks, and had carried his vaccination certificate in his billfold when he died the doctors began tracing his movements from the hour he crossed the border.
Says the Cosmopolitan in telling this story:
"Dr. Weinstein reached for his telephone. He called the United States Public Health Service in Washington and advised them, calmly as he could, that smallpox had entered New York and that the city was looking into the matter. He ordered a report from Helen LeBar (the victims wife) on the travels of a bus more wayward than Bill Camillos. He called the Foreign Quarantine Office on Staten Island, informing them that a man from Mexico had slipped through the border inspectors with a microscopic virus. And he ordered the immediate vaccination of the citys police and firemen."
From beginning to end the story was replete with melodrama, physicians armed with needles invading boarding houses in the slums, and obtaining the names of the people who had occupied the same hotel with the LeBars. Says the Cosmopolitan: "The show girls of Carousel and Oklahoma made the front pages being vaccinated, of course, on their thighs."
And, incidentally, the fons et origo of this melodrama was overlooked by physicians. It is found in the following quotations from the Cosmopolitan recital:
"On Tuesday morning, Mrs. LeBar appeared at the hospital with a small medicine bottle containing a very small bug. Shed found the bug, she said, while going through her husbands clothing and thought it might account for his illness. Excited about her discovery, she urged the doctors to examine the bug as quickly as possible.
"The hospital sent the mysterious bug to the New York University Laboratory, where it was promptly identified by Dr. Donald Moore, entomologist, as a Cimex lectularius, or the common and harmless bedbug."