Gandhi on Smallpox and Other Contagious Diseases
A GUIDE TO HEALTH
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by Mahatma Gandhi
CONTAGIOUS DISEASES: SMALL-POX
Now we will proceed to deal with the treatment of contagious diseases. They have a common origin, but, since small-pox is by far the most important of them, we will give a separate chapter to it, dealing with the rest in another chapter. [Pg 105] We are all terribly afraid of the small-pox, and have very crude notions about it. We in India even worship it as a deity. In fact it is caused, just like other diseases, by the blood getting impure owing to some disorder of the bowels; and the poison that accumulates in the system is expelled in the form of small-pox. If this view is correct, then there is absolutely no need to be afraid of small-pox. If it were really a contagious disease, everyone should catch it by merely touching the patient; but this is not always the case. Hence there is really no harm in touching the patient, provided we take some essential precautions in doing so. We cannot, of course, assert that small-pox is never transmitted by touch, for those that are physically in a condition favourable to its transmission will catch it. This is why, in a locality where small-pox has appeared, many people are found attacked by it at the same time. This has given rise to the superstition that it is a contagious disease, and hence to the attempt to mislead the people into the belief that vaccination is an effective means of preventing it. The process of vaccination consists in injecting into the skin the liquid that is obtained by applying the discharge from the body of a small-pox patient to the udder of a cow. The original theory was that a single vaccination would suffice to keep a man [Pg 106] immune from this disease for life; but, when it was found that even vaccinated persons were attacked by the disease, a new theory came into being that the vaccination should be renewed after a certain period, and to-day it has become the rule for all persons—whether already vaccinated or not—to get themselves vaccinated whenever small-pox rages as an epidemic in any locality, so that it is no uncommon thing to come across people who have been vaccinated five or six times, or even more.
Vaccination is a barbarous practice, and it is one of the most fatal of all the delusions current in our time, not to be found even among the so-called savage races of the world. Its supporters are not content with its adoption by those who have no objection to it, but seek to impose it with the aid of penal laws and rigorous punishments on all people alike. The practice of vaccination is not very old, dating as it does only from 1798 A.D. But, during this comparatively short period that has elapsed, millions have fallen a prey to the delusion that those who get themselves vaccinated are safe from the attack of small-pox. No one can say that small-pox will necessarily attack those who have not been vaccinated; for many cases have been observed of unvaccinated people being free from its attack. From the fact that some people who are not vaccinated do get the [Pg 107] disease, we cannot, of course, conclude that they would have been immune if only they had got themselves vaccinated.
Moreover, vaccination is a very dirty process, for the serum which is introduced into the human body includes not only that of the cow, but also of the actual small-pox patient. An average man would even vomit at the mere sight of this stuff. If the hand happens to touch it, it is always washed with soap. The mere suggestion of tasting it fills us with indignation and disgust. But how few of those who get themselves vaccinated realise that they are in effect eating this filthy stuff! Most people know that, in several diseases, medicines and liquid food are injected into the blood, and that they are assimilated into the system more rapidly than if they were taken through the mouth. The only difference, in fact, between injection and the ordinary process of eating through the mouth is that the assimilation in the former case is instantaneous, while that in the latter is slow. And yet we do not shrink from getting ourselves vaccinated! As has been well said, cowards die a living death, and our craze for vaccination is solely due to the fear of death or disfigurement by small-pox.
I cannot also help feeling that vaccination is a violation of the dictates of religion and morality. [Pg 108] The drinking of the blood of even dead animals is looked upon with horror even by habitual meat-eaters. Yet, what is vaccination but the taking in of the poisoned blood of an innocent living animal? Better far were it for God-fearing men that they should a thousand times become the victims of small-pox and even die a terrible death than that they should be guilty of such an act of sacrilege.
Several of the most thoughtful men in England have laboriously investigated the manifold evils of vaccination, and an Anti-Vaccination Society has also been formed there. The members of this society have declared open war against vaccination, and many have even gone to gaol for this cause. Their objections to vaccination are briefly as follows:
(1) The preparation of the vaccine from the udder of cows or calves entails untold suffering on thousands of innocent creatures, and this cannot possibly be justified by any gains resulting from vaccination.
(2) Vaccination, instead of doing good, works considerable mischief by giving rise to many new diseases. Even its advocates cannot deny that, after its introduction, many new diseases have come into being.
(3) The vaccine that is prepared from the blood of a small-pox patient is likely to contain and [Pg 109] transmit the germs of all the several diseases that he may be suffering from.
(4) There is no guarantee that small-pox will not attack the vaccinated. Dr. Jenner, the inventor of vaccination, originally supposed that perfect immunity could be secured by a single injection on a single arm; but when it was found to fail, it was asserted that vaccination on both the arms would serve the purpose; and when even this proved ineffectual, it came to be held that both the arms should be vaccinated at more than one place, and that it should also be renewed once in seven years. Finally, the period of immunity has further been reduced to three years! All this clearly shows that doctors themselves have no definite views on the matter. The truth is, as we have already said, that there is no saying that small-pox will not attack the vaccinated, or that all cases of immunity must needs be due to vaccination.
(5) The vaccine is a filthy substance, and it is foolish to expect that one kind of filth can be removed by another.
By these and similar arguments, this society has already produced a large volume of public opinion against vaccination. In a certain town, for instance, a large proportion of the people refuse to be vaccinated, and yet statistics prove that they are singularly free from disease. The fact of the [Pg 110] matter is that it is only the self-interest of doctors that stands in the way of the abolition of this inhuman practice, for the fear of losing the large incomes that they at present derive from this source blinds them to the countless evils which it brings. There are, however, a few doctors who recognise these evils, and who are determined opponents of vaccination.
Those who are conscientious objectors to vaccination should, of course, have the courage to face all penalties or persecutions to which they may be subjected by law, and stand alone, if need be, against the whole world, in defence of their conviction. Those who object to it merely on the grounds of health should acquire a complete mastery of the subject, and should be able to convince others of the correctness of their views, and convert them into adopting those views in practice. But those who have neither definite views on the subject nor courage enough to stand up for their convictions should no doubt obey the laws of the state, and shape their conduct in deference to the opinions and practices of the world around them.
Those who object to vaccination should observe all the more strictly the laws of health already explained; for the strict observance of these laws ensures in the system those vital forces which counteract all disease germs, and is, therefore, the [Pg 111] best protection against small-pox as well as other diseases. If, while objecting to the introduction of the poisonous vaccine into the system, they surrendered themselves to the still more fatal poison of sensuality, they would undoubtedly forfeit their right to ask the world to accept their views on the matter.
When small-pox has actually appeared, the best treatment is the “Wet-Sheet-Pack”, which should be applied three times a day. It relieves the fever, and the sores heal rapidly. There is no need at all to apply oils or ointments on the sores. If possible, a mud-poultice should be applied in one or two places. The diet should consist of rice, and light fresh fruits, all rich fruits like date and almond being avoided. Normally the sores should begin to heal under the “Wet-Sheet-Pack” in less than a week; if they do not, it means that the poison in the system has not been completely expelled. Instead of looking upon small-pox as a terrible disease, we should regard it as one of Nature’s best expedients for getting rid of the accumulated poison in the body, and the restoration of normal health.
After an attack of small-pox, the patient remains weak for sometime, and in some cases even suffers from other ailments. But this is due not to the small-pox itself; but to the wrong remedies employed [Pg 112] to cure it. Thus, the use of quinine in fever often results in deafness, and even leads to the extreme form of it known as “quininism”. So too, the employment of mercury in venereal diseases leads to many new forms of disease. Then again, too frequent use of purgatives in constipation brings on ailments like the piles. The only sound system of treatment is that which attempts to remove the root-causes of disease by a strict observance of the fundamental laws of health. Even the costly Bhasmas which are supposed to be unfailing remedies for such diseases are in effect highly injurious; for, although they may seem to do some good, they excite the evil passions, and ultimately ruin the health.
After the vesicles on the body have given place to scabs, olive oil should be constantly applied, and the patient bathed every day. Then the scabs rapidly fall off, and even the pocks soon disappear, the skin recovering its normal colour and freshness.
OTHER CONTAGIOUS DISEASES
We do not dread chicken-pox so much as its elder sister, since it is not so fatal, and does not cause disfigurement and the like. It is, however, exactly [Pg 113] the same as small-pox in other respects, and should therefore be dealt with in the same way.
Bubonic Plague is a terrible disease, and has accounted for the death of millions of our people since the year 1896, when it first made its real entry into our land. The doctors, in spite of all their investigations, have not yet been able to invent a sure remedy for it. Now-a-days the practice of inoculation has come into vogue, and the belief has gained ground that an attack of plague may be obviated by it. But inoculation for plague is as bad and as sinful as vaccination for small-pox. Although no sure remedy has been devised for this disease, we will venture to suggest the following treatment to those who have full faith in Providence, and who are not afraid of death.
(1) The “Wet-Sheet-Pack” should be applied as soon as the first symptoms of fever appear.
(2) A thick mud-poultice should be applied to the bubo.
(3) The patient should be completely starved.
(4) If he feels thirsty, he should be given lime-juice in cold water.
(5) He should be made to lie in the open air.
(6) There should not be more than one attendant by the side of the patient.
We can confidently assert that, if plague can be [Pg 114] cured by any treatment at all, it can be cured by this.
Though the exact origin and causes of plague are yet unknown, it is undoubted that rats have something to do with its communication. We should, therefore, take all precautions, in a plague-infected area, to prevent the approach of rats in our dwellings; if we cannot get rid of them, we should vacate the house.
The best remedy to prevent an attack of plague is, of course, to follow strictly the laws of health,—to live in the open air, to eat plain wholesome food and in moderation, to take good exercise, to keep the house neat and clean, to avoid all evil habits, and, in short, lead a life of utter simplicity and purity. Even in normal times our lives should be such, but, in times of plague and other epidemics, we should be doubly careful.
Pneumonic Plague is an even more dangerous form of this disease. Its attack is sudden and almost invariably fatal. The patient has very high fever, feels extreme difficulty in breathing, and in most cases, is rendered unconscious. This form of plague broke out in Johannesburg in 1904, and as has been already said, 2 only one man escaped alive out of the 23 who were attacked. The treatment for this disease is just the same as that for [Pg 115] Bubonic Plague, with this difference that the poultice should be applied in this case to both sides of the chest. If there be no time to try the “Wet-Sheet-Pack”, a thin poultice of mud should be applied to the head. Needless to say, here as in other cases, prevention is better than cure.
2 Part II, chap. IV
We are terribly afraid of cholera, as of plague, but in fact, it is much less fatal. Here the “Wet-Sheet-Pack”, however, is of no effect, but the mud-poultice should be applied to the stomach, and where there is a tingling sensation, the affected part should be warmed with a bottle filled with warm water. The feet should be rubbed with mustard-oil, and the patient should be starved. Care should be taken to see that he does not get alarmed. If the motions are too frequent, the patient should not be repeatedly taken out of bed, but a flat shallow vessel should be placed underneath to receive the stools. If these precautions are taken in due time, there is little fear of danger. This disease generally breaks out in the hot season, when we generally eat all sorts of unripe and over-ripe fruits in immoderate quantities and in addition to our ordinary food. The water also that we drink during this season is often dirty, as the quantity of it in wells and tanks is small, and we take no trouble to boil or filter it. Then again, the stools of the patients being allowed [Pg 116] to lie exposed, the germs of the disease are communicated through the air. Indeed, when we consider how little heed we pay to these most elementary facts and principles, we can only wonder that we are not more often attacked by these terrible diseases.
During the prevalence of cholera, we should eat light food in moderation. We should breathe plenty of fresh air; and the water that we drink should always be thoroughly boiled, and filtered with a thick clean piece of cloth. The stools of the patient should be covered up with a thick layer of earth. Indeed, even in normal times, we should invariably cover up the stools with ashes or loose earth. If we do so, there would be much less danger of the spread of disease. Even the lower animals like the cat take this precaution, but we are worse than they in this respect.
It should also be thoroughly impressed on the minds of persons suffering from contagious diseases, as well as those around them, that they should, under no circumstances, give way to panic, for fear always paralyses the nerves and increases the danger of fatality.
– Some Examples of Revolts and Opposition against compulsory Smallpox Vaccination