Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Medical Objects

The recent Archive Crawl brought to my attention an overlooked mini-museum in Portland, located at Oregon Health Sciences University. The Historical Collections and Archives holds a number of different artifacts of Oregon's medical history from the early pioneer days to the institutes break through research years.

While I have yet to visit the actual facility, I am intrigued by the notion of this collection.

It brings to mind an odd reference I came across in a book about a malaria outbreak that occurred in Portland in the mid-1800s. As the story goes, documented in journal entries of early settlers, it was an unusually wet spring followed by a warm summer which brought out mosquitoes in massive swarms. The disease decimated the remaining native tribes that lived on Sauvie Island essentially eliminating some of the last remaining clusters of indigenous peoples of the region. While malaria was not outright named in these old diary entries, the symptoms described, recurring fevers, sweats, punctuated by brief moments calm and eventual death were all indicative of the illness.

The prospect of a malaria outbreak so far north seems very strange in contemporary society; we usually associate this disease with tropical and subtropical regions of the globe. However, if the conditions are right and the vectors that spread the disease aren't contained it is possible for a myriad of diseases to travel. 

While we panic over West Nile Virus and yet don't heed warnings about swine flu amazes me. But this is not an epidemiology rant, I just like the curiosities of nature and of our collective history.
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