Thursday, April 24, 2014

DOCTORS WHO PUSHED BACK THE FRONTIERS OF MEDICINE


Dr GEORGE MILLER STERNBERG


THE FATHER OF AMERICAN BACTERIOLOGY

by Keith Souter  aka CLAY MORE




This post will be the first of several that will look at some of the famous doctors who pushed back the frontiers of medicine and science in the 19th century. First up is Dr George Miller Sternberg (1838-1915), a US military physician and surgeon, who would become the first American bacteriologist.


 Young Dr George Sternberg

George Miller Sternberg was born in Hartwick, New York in 1838, the son of a Lutheran clergyman. He graduated MD from the College of Physicians  and Surgeons of New York in 1860, then settled in Elizabeth, New Jersey and started to practice. When the war broke out he was appointed Assistant Surgeon.

First illness and personal tragedy
Dr Sternberg saw active service and was captured at the First Battle of Bull Run in 1861. He escaped and rejoined his command at the defence of Washington. he served in several battles during the Peninsular Campaign and fell ill with Typhoid Fever at Harrison's Landing.

After the War he married Louisa Russell and practiced at Jefferson Barracks in Missouri, then at Fort Hacker in Kansas. His wife did not go with him to Fort Hacker, but followed him. Tragically,  a cholera outbreak was sweeping through the Fort and she contracted it almost immediately, and died a within hours.

Second illness
After the War he was sent to New York and then to Florida, where he saw and treated many cases of Yellow Fever. And there he contracted Yellow Fever himself and fortunately survived.

Yellow Fever was called 'yellow jack' or 'yellow plague.' At the time it was thought to be one of the 'miasma' illnesses. That is, they were thought to come from 'bad air.' It was characterised by small hemorrhages in the skin (petechiae), yellow discolouration from liver impairment, fever, chills, abdominal pain, general aches, vomiting and hemorrhages into the eyes, mouth and nose.

His observations about Yellow Fever led him to advise removing inhabitants from areas that were afflicted by the disease. This was successful and led to him writing a couple of medical papers in the New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal - An Inquiry into the Modus Operandi of the Yellow Fever Poison in 1875 and then A Study of the Natural History of Yellow Fever in 1877.

Pushing back the frontiers of medical science
As a result of his work on Yellow Fever he was appointed in 1880 to work with the  Havana Yellow Fever Commission.

19th century field microscope

There he worked with the Cuban physician and scientist Dr Carlos Finlay (1833-1915), who had theorised that the disease was caused by mosquito bites. Dr Sternberg concurred, but although he was adept with microscopical examinations of blood and tissues, bacteriology was not advanced enough to identify the causative organism. Indeed, it was not until 1927 that the virus was detected, and it was not until 1930 that vaccines were developed.

                                                      


Yellow Fever spread by a species of mosquito

Sternberg had experienced both Yellow Fever and Typhoid Fever and had lost his first wife from Cholera. He was to go on to describe the cause of Malaria from Plasmodium malariae in the blood, again after mosquito bites in 1881.


Malarial parasites (Plasmodium malariae) in the blood

And in 1886 he confirmed the roles of bacteria in both Tuberculosis and in Typhoid fever.


Salmonella typhi, a flagellated (see the little whip-like flagella) gram positive bacteria that cause Typhoid Fever

US Army Surgeon General
In 1892 he wrote Manual of Bacteriology, the first American textbook o the science. Then in 1893 he was appointed as the 18th US Army Surgeon General, a post he held until 1902. During his tenure he oversaw the establishment of the American Army College in 1893 and also US Army Nurse Corps in 1901.



His later years were spent trying to improve the social conditions of tuberculous patients.

He was described by Robert Koch, the discoverer of  Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the causative organism of TB, as the Father of American Bacteriology. It was an accolade that he thoroughly deserved.
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Clay More's character of Dr Logan Munro, the town doctor is appearing in several of the Wolf Creek novels







And his other new character, Doc Marcus Quigley, dentist, gambler and occasional bounty hunter continues in his quest to bring a murderer to justice. The complete collection of short stories is now available in both paperback and eBook from  High Noon Press.



http://www.amazon.com/Adventures-Casebook-Dr-Marcus-Quigley/dp/162208523X/ref=tmm_pap_title_0

18 comments:

  1. Dr.Keith,

    Another enlightening article! As I said before, glad for modern medicine and know positively that many of us during the past would have succumbed to one of the many diseases you describe.

    I am still very glad for modern medicine.

    Charlie

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Charlie. Yes, we have to be thankful for all of those doctors pushing back the frontiers.

      Keith

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  2. Near and dear to my heart the stories of the early physicians. Although I am not a physician, I do appreciate their and your contribution to the history. I devour each of your post and I thank you for helping me follow my passion of the lives of early women MD's in the early west,(Colorado) for it helps put the events into context.

    Thank you and continued success in all your endeavors. Doris

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  3. Thank you for reading it, Doris. That is a great area of research that you have there. And thank you for your kind words.

    Keith

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  4. Keith, I always look forward to these posts of yours. In my "other life" (when I was younger) I was fascinated with medicine and wanted to be a nurse. I actually wanted to be a doctor, but that was practically unheard of in my small town. But my mom discouraged me, and before long I began to think I couldn't have done the math courses required, anyhow. I think that's why your posts always intrigue me so much. And they're always so informative, and easy to read.

    I love Dr. Logan Munro. He's always so calm and collected, and can use a pistol as well as he can wield a scalpel. He's a wonderful character--very realistic.

    Thanks for a great post--bacteriology would have to be one of the hardest things to wrap your mind around, I would think, in the world of medicine as it was then.

    Cheryl

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    1. Thanks, Cheryl. Yes, bacteriology required a complete paradigm shift.

      And thank you for your kind words about Logan!

      Keith

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  5. Keith,
    A very informative post. I really enjoyed it.

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  6. Thanks, Kristy. Glad you enjoyed it.

    Keith

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  7. Very good article indeed. Dr. Munro sounds like the character Rex Allen played in his western doctor series years ago. I can't remember the name of the series, but it was a goodn'. Rod Thompson

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    1. Thank you, Rod. I just checked that out. It was Frontier Doctor, screened in 1958-59. I don't think it ever made it over this side of the Pond, but I checked Amazon and it is on DVD. I have ordered it.

      Keith

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  8. Great post. Sometimes I think of how diligently early physicians worked, especially given the many medical misconceptions that existed then.

    I'm with Cheryl. I'm becoming a Dr. Munro groupie.

    All the best, Vonn

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Vonn. Yes, they had a tough job. But of course, many were not qualified. Anyone could call themselves 'doctor' and put up their shingle. Then a whole range of medical schools sprang up, based on different 'disciplines,' but able to confer diplomas or degrees. The Civil War 'taught' many doctors how to operate. It was the steepest of learning curves.

      And thank you, Logan would be touched!

      Keith

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  9. See why I go to Dr. Keith when I need to know if a man can live if his abdomen has been sliced open and his intestines allowed to fall out?

    Dr. is the man!

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    1. Always happy to help if I can, Charlie.

      Keith

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  10. Informative post. I wish I had one of those field microscopes. When the kids were young we would cordon off a square yard of ground for each of them when we went berry picking and have them identify all the plants and buggies. One of those would have added the dimension of animalcules…

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    1. Thanks, Marc. The field microscope is still good for that.

      I guess your kids had great fun.

      Keith

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  11. Love the picture of the microscope! I researched them when I wrote the first book in the Hearts of Owyhee series, and luckily Roberta Gellis's husband collects antique microscopes so he was a big help.

    When you think of how difficult it is today to get a new line of thinking into the mainstream, pushing the concept of bacteriology in the 1880s would be a formidable task. We owe a lot of gratitude to Dr. Sternberg and others. I'm eagerly looking forward to your other posts in this series!

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  12. Wow!! The Father of Bacteriology - poor guy, getting both diseases too. TG he survived to keep up the good work. Modern peeps sure owe him a great debt. Thanks for the enlightening post, Dr. Keith!

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