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The newsbuster from Theobald Smith was:Get rid of the insect and the disease disappears!

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Mystery of the Nasty Ticks, part two

These were rough times in Texas. These were days that shouted, “Find an answer to the Texas fever. Get these southern Texan cattle out of the north.”

Northern cattlemen fingered their guns and declared, “Don’t you southerners drive your cattle through our territory.  Every time your cattle come close to ours, we lose 9 out of 10 cows.”

In Washington D. C. and out in the field a mini team worked to find a cure.   Theobald Smith, the primary researcher, thought, “How baffling this investigation is! Cattlemen say that ticks are causing the Texas fever.  Scientists claim that insects do not cause disease.  After the experiments I have done this summer, I know that southern cows with ticks live and northern cows with ticks die.  I know that the northern cows did not start dying until they got ticks from the southern cows.

“The bug expert, Cooper, and I have meticulously studied ticks. We have learned that ticks live about twenty days. A baby female tick climbs up a cow

leg, sucks cow blood, marries a male tick, falls to the ground, and lays about 2,000 eggs.

“With a microscope I have examined the watery blood of cows, who have died of Texas fever. Their blood corpuscles are broken. A tiny killer microbe must be in their blood. Spaces appear to be in the blood. But, after peering at thousands of spaces, I am convinced that the spaces are moving organisms. I have seen none in the blood of healthy cows.”

Theobald ran more experiments. He put cans of ticks in fields with healthy northern cows, where no southern cows were present. Healthy cows soon had ticks and became sick and died or became sick and recovered.  He concluded, “Ticks are causing trouble! I need to know exactly how they become assassins. What if cows eat ticks that are mixed into hay, will they get sick?” The answer from research was, “No!”

He asked, “What if I hatch ticks and they have never been on a cow or in a field, could they make a northern cow sick?”  He did the experiment. Yes, the cows got sick and their blood had the strange little creatures. Wow! The killer microbes must be passed from the mama ticks to their eggs. The deadly microbe is in each baby tick, when it hatches.”

 He continued his experiments. The killer microbe was named Pyrosoma bigeminum. Theobald wrote a report that satisfied doubting scientists. The newsbuster was: Get rid of the insect and the disease disappears.

But how? No modern insecticides existed. Researchers developed an arsenic based insecticide that killed ticks, but not plants. Fields were sprayed with it and cows dipped into it. Southern cattlemen protested, “This spraying and dipping is a Yankee plot. Arsenic’s a poison. You use it to kill weeds and wolves.” Laws were passed. Shots were fired. Finally the Texas Rangers were ordered, “Get the cows dipped and the pastures sprayed.” They did.

Identification of the killer microbe led to many firsts in science. Two were: An infection can be carried from an infected creature to an uninfected one by a third agency, a vector, which is not diseased. Malaria can be eradicated by killing mosquitoes.

In 1917 Theobald said that the modern world requires “above all the steadying influence of men accustomed…to sit still and think, to produce results, and this is in part the training which research imposes….”

This is Barbara Steiner peeking into rooms opened by Theobald Smith. Remember to look at the website:

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