The community of Summerland was affected by a diphtheria outbreak in 1911. (Summerland Museum image)

Diphtheria outbreak affected Summerland in 1911

Contagious bacterial infection had 10 per cent fatality rate

By David Gregory

Five years after Summerland was incorporated, our community experienced its first epidemic.

There had been isolated cases, of typhoid, scarlet fever and tuberculosis, but in 1911, Summerland had its first cluster of infectious disease: diphtheria.

Diphtheria is one of the dreaded childhood diseases. It is a contagious bacterial infection that damages the throat area and can obstruct breathing. This infection has a 10 per cent fatality rate.

On Dec. 9, 1911, the first case of diphtheria was reported and almost immediately a second case was found in the same house in Summerland.

Also on that same day, two other families had contacted diphtheria.

Reeve James Ritchie ordered closure of schools churches and any assemblies. The schools remained closed until after Christmas.

READ ALSO: Spanish influenza affected British Columbia

READ ALSO: Summerland has faced disease outbreak in the past

There was a planned assembly for the newly formed Boy Scouts that was also cancelled.

In 1911, a vaccine was not available. The only treatment for diphtheria was antitoxin.

The antitoxin was derived from serum taken from healthy horses that had previously been inoculated with diphtheria and had developed immunity. The antitoxin was most effective when given to patients at the earliest stage of infection.

In addition, the district of Summerland enforced procedures to reduce the spread of infection: isolation, house quarantine and house disinfection.

On Dec. 10, 10-year old Ruby Thompson, daughter of John and Ann Thompson, succumbed to the disease.

By Dec. 11, five additional families were affected. These families were ordered to remain in their homes and their homes disinfected.

Two days later, the administration of antitoxin began.

By Dec. 14, two more families with three to four cases were reported. The spread of diphtheria continued with two more infected families being reported.

Summerland’s medical officer, Dr. Charles Smith, ordered the quarantine of the family members to their houses and instructed the public to “keep away as far as possible from houses infected with diphtheria.”

The Summerland Review published the names of the families that were suspected of having diphtheria.

Smith speculated that the disease was brought to Summerland and spread first to the junior department of the school.

With the rapid administration of the antitoxin, the seriousness of the disease was reduced and eventually those infected by diphtheria recovered.

One patient who had a particularly slow and difficult time recovering from diphtheria was six-year old Bobby Hatfield, son of Seamus and Roberta Hatfield.

No further diphtheria cases were reported.

The schools were fumigated and disinfected. Hygiene practices within the school were improved.

The school’s “one common drinking cup” was replaced by a sanitary drinking fountain.

With the outbreak of diphtheria in several British Columbia communities, the province passed the School Medical Inspection Act of 1911.

All students were to have a medical exam once a year and the student’s health record would remain at the school.

The diphtheria epidemic prepared Summerland for the next epidemic/pandemic: the Spanish flu from 1918 to 1920.

In the earliest days of the epidemic in British Columbia, Summerland created a special hospital for flu patients and the hospital was operational when the first case of the Spanish flu was reported in the Summerland area.

A vaccine for diphtheria was eventually developed in 1926 and widely used in Canada by 1930.

Today, with Canada’s immunization programs, there have been only five cases of diphtheria in the last 20 years.

As for the slowly recovering diphtheria victim Bobby Hatfield, his full name was Harley Robert Hatfield.

He became one of this province’s preeminent historians. His specialty was historic trails.

He was the historian who rediscovered the settlement of the Priest site at Garnet Lake. Harley Hatfield was honoured by the province with the naming of Mt. Hatfield, a 2,227-metre mountain, located directly behind the Hope Slide.

David Gregory is a Summerland historian.

To report a typo, email:
news@summerlandreview.com
.



news@summerlandreview.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

history

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Dr. Charles Smith was Summerland’s medical officer during the diphtheria outbreak. (Summerland Museum photo)

Ruby Thompson, 10 years old, died from diphtheria in December, 1911. Others in the community were also affected by the outbreak. A vaccine for diphtheria was not developed until 1926. (Summerland Museum photo)

Just Posted

BC Liberal Party Shuswap candidate Greg Kyllo and wife Georgina celebrate another successful campaign, with preliminary results for the 42nd provincial general election showing Greg winning the riding with a comfortable majority. (Jim Elliot-Salmon Arm Observer)
Shuswap’s Greg Kyllo faces third term and BC NDP majority

BC NDP candidate Sylvia Lindgren celebrates party’s success

NDP headquarters on election night, Oct. 24, 2020. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)
ELECTION 2020: Live blog from B.C. party headquarters

BC NDP projected to win majority government – but celebrations will look different this election

BC Liberal Party Shuswap candidate Greg Kyllo and wife Georgina celebrate another successful campaign, with preliminary results for the 42nd provincial general election showing Greg winning the riding with a comfortable majority. (Jim Elliot-Salmon Arm Observer)
BC Liberal Party Shuswap candidate Greg Kyllo and wife Georgina celebrate another successful campaign, with preliminary results for the 42nd provincial general election showing Greg winning the riding with a comfortable majority. (Jim Elliot-Salmon Arm Observer)
BC Election 2020: Preliminary results show BC Liberal Greg Kyllo winning third term as Shuswap MLA

Kyllo expressed gratitude to voters and supporters as results rolled in on Oct. 24

B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau outlines her party's climate action platform at Nanaimo's Vancouver Island Conference Centre earlier this month. (News Bulletin file photo)
Green leader Furstenau declared victor in her home riding on Vancouver Island

Cowichan Valley voters elect freshly minted party leader for her second term

John Horgan has been re-elected the MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca. (File-Black Press)
Horgan trounces challengers to be re-elected in his Vancouver Island riding

MLA has represented constituency of Langford-Juan de Fuca and its predecessors since 2005

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan celebrates projected majority NDP government, but no deadline for $1,000 deposit

Premier-elect says majority government will allow him to tackle issues across all of B.C.

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Kelowna Secondary School. (SD23 photo)
One case of COVID-19 identified at Kelowna Secondary School

Interior Health will follow up directly with those who may have been exposed to the virus

BC NDP candidate Harwinder Sandhu offered praise to her team of volunteers (pictured Oct. 21), following a too-close race with BC Liberal and incumbent Eric Foster in the 2020 provincial election Oct. 24. The outcome will be dependent on the final count from mail-in ballots expected in three weeks. (Facebook)
‘Every vote counts’ in tight Vernon-Monashee race: NDP Harwinder Sandhu

Incumbent BC Liberal Eric Foster finishes election night with slim lead

The Independent Investigations Office of BC (IIO)
UPDATE: One dead after Highway 97A crash near Armstrong, police watchdog investigating

The crash happened as RCMP attempted to stop an alleged stolen vehicle

FILE – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets Premier John Horgan during a press conference at the BC Transit corporate office following an announcement about new investments to improve transit for citizens in the province while in Victoria on Thursday, July 18, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Trudeau congratulates Horgan on NDP’s election victory in British Columbia

Final count won’t be available for three weeks due to the record number of 525,000 ballots cast by mail

Comedic actor Seth Rogen, right, and business partner Evan Goldberg pose in this undated handout photo. When actor Seth Rogen was growing up and smoking cannabis in Vancouver, he recalls there was a constant cloud of shame around the substance that still lingers. Rogen is determined to change that. (Maarten de Boer ohoto)
Seth Rogen talks about fighting cannabis stigma, why pot should be as accepted as beer

‘I smoke weed all day and every day and have for 20 years’

Provincial Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau speaks at Provincial Green Party headquarters at the Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe in Victoria. (Arnold Lim / Black Press)
VIDEO: Furstenau leads BC Greens to win first riding outside of Vancouver Island

Sonia Furstenau became leader of BC Greens one week before snap election was called

NDP Leader John Horgan elbow bumps NDP candidate Coquitlam-Burke Mountain candidate Fin Donnelly following a seniors round table in Coquitlam, B.C., Tuesday, October 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan, NDP head for majority in B.C. election results

Record number of mail-in ballots may shift results

Most Read