Another Case of Flesh-Eating Disease

Memorial of my 3x great uncle Martin Sweet who died in 1893. Stone states his family died in 1864. They were victims of "Black Fever."

A third person diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis

Most major news media are reporting that a third person has been diagnosed with flesh-eating bacteria this month.This disease, otherwise known as necrotizing fasciitis or gangrene, is a rare and quickly progressive infection of deep skin layers and subcutaneous tissue. It is caused by many different kinds of bacteria. It is usually treated with intravenous antibiotics and surgery to remove the diseased tissue. Unfortunately limb amputation often is necessary to prevent the spread of the bacteria.This process, if not caught early, can quickly spin out of control with the victim battling for life itself.

We usually don’t hear much about this sort of disease. But recently the media has been abuzz with these cases, which have occurred in the Southern part of the United States. Reports state that there is no established link between these cases. According to the National Necrotizing Fasciitis Foundation, “a 1996 CDC report estimates 500 to 1500 cases per year of necrotizing fasciitis of which 20% die.”  However other websites have reported that there are 10,000 to 15,000 cases in the United States per year with a one in four death rate.

This infection is not new

With thousands of annual cases in the US, it is interesting to notice that all of a sudden the focus is on these recent instances. Actually, necrotizing fasciitis has been around for quite a long a while. This infection is not new. Hippocrates described it. King Herod was noted to have contracted it. It was also documented during the Civil War. It is just that we don’t usually hear reports of necrotizing fasciitis these days.

In genealogy research, I often encounter death stories of those who lived in the so-called good old days. We assume some diseases have disappeared altogether. However, I discovered that many just undergo a name change. Examples include things like consumption, the grippe, and catarrh (tuberculosis, the flu virus, and a runny nose).  

An epidemic in my family tree

My ancestors in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania battled one such epidemic in 1864. My great great great Aunt Betsey Walker Sweet died along with her six children from what was referred to as the Black Fever. Other sources referred to it as Spotted Fever or Cerebrospinal Meningitis. This disease was reported to cause death within a matter of hours and appeared to be highly contagious. There were four more casualties at the home of my great great great Uncle James Walker which amounted to the death of his wife and children. Numerous other relatives and members of the community were listed as victims. Research indicates that many counties in Pennsylvania were afflicted at that time. A newspaper article in the Montrose Democrat states:

“This obstinate scourge of our race broke out at Dart’s Corners, in Herrick, two weeks since striking the family of Horace Dart. But its mission rested not there; it went from house to house until at this time it has consigned nineteen of the inhabitants to the grave:  Six at Martin Sweet’s, four at James B. Walker’s–leaving but one member each of these two families … (March 17, 1864)

As quickly as this virus appeared, it soon disappears from the records. Unfortunately various epidemics still occur today. Some have been controlled with vaccines and antibiotics. However, there are always new mutations of viruses that threaten populations, especially the vulnerable.

Epidemics that target the spirit

In Matthew 10:28 Jesus says:  And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.

There are epidemics which harm the body. But more threatening are those that target the spirit and rot the soul.  I am referring to the type that may be seen in some societal trends. Often the victims are like the anecdote of the frog placed in a pot about to be boiled. A frog put directly into boiling water will jump out. But one that is placed in cold water that is gradually heated will end up being cooked to death while alive.

Nothing new under the sun

Modernism, individualism, secularism, relativism…There is nothing new under the sun. When I was young I used to think that modern people were pretty smart cookies. However the older I get, I realize that the isms are only reinventions under another name. What does someone who is about a half a century old have over the collective wisdom of mankind?  Better yet, what does someone who is barely a quarter of a century know better than the wisdom of God and the Church?

It is never old-fashioned to cherish the life of the unborn, the elderly, and those who have disabilities. It is never out-dated to protect the Sacrament of Marriage between a man and a woman. It is never antiquated to follow the Ten Commandments. 

Yep, our society has had several cases of necrotizing fasciitis recently. But what about those epidemics that are rotting souls?

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