Typhoid Fever was a significant health issue early in Oakland's history. In the typhoid epidemic of 1893 over 4,000 citizens of Oakland became ill, and at least 42 died from the disease.
One cause of the epidemic was contamination of the mollusks, native oysters and bay mussels, which had become contaminated from the raw sewage emptying directly into Lake Merritt and the San Francisco Bay.
During that period of time poor families and "enterprising boys" fished and gathered the shellfish along the mudflats of the Southern Pacific Pier. The young boys would sell the 'fresh' fish and mollusks which were contaminated to housewives in the area, with no one the wiser. Local families catching their food to supplement meager food budgets increased the number of cases of sickness. 1
It would seem that combating disease was an extremely serious issue in Oakland. In 1903 Ordinance No. 1293 was passed in the City of Oakland Charter which required "the reporting to the Health Officer of all cases of sickness or death from certain diseases ..." 2
Be it Ordained by the Council of the City of Oakland, as follows:
Section 1: Every Physician in the City of Oakland shall immediately report to the Health Office, in writing, every patient he shall have sick of typhus or ship fever, yellow fever, Asiatic cholera, smallpox, bubonic plague, diphtheria, scarlet fever or scarletina, chickenpox, typhoid fever, malarial fever, or pulmonary tuberculosis accompany by expectoration; and report to the Health Office every death from any of the said diseases immediately after it shall have occurred. (Amendment approved December 21, 1901. Vol. 5, p. 605.)
Section 2: Section 2 of said ordinance is hereby amended to read as follows. Section 2: Every householder in the City of Oakland shall immediately report in writing to the Health Office the name of every inmate of his or her house, who he or she shall have reason to believe sick of typhus or ship fever, yellow fever, Asiatic cholera, smallpox, bubonic plague, diphtheria, scarlet fever or scarletina, chickenpox, typhoid fever, malarial fever, or pulmonary tuberculosis accompany by expectoration; and report every death occurring at his or her house from any of the said diseases. (Amendment approved December 21, 1901. Vol. 5, p. 605)
Section 3:Every person violating any provision of this ordinance is guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof shall be punished by a fine of not to exceed one hundred dollars, and in case such fine be not paid, then by imprisonment at the rate of one day for every two dollars of the fine so imposed.
Section 4: This ordinance shall take effect immediately upon its approval. (Approved July 9, 1891. Vol. 3, p. 647.) 2
At a time when Oakland had just dealt with the 1893 typhoid epidemic it would seem that the book Athens of the Pacific, published just four years after the epidemic, was either attempting to downplay the seriousness of the situation or show that Oakland had taken strides to alleviate the problem. If the latter, had those measures been effective at the time the book was written and/or how many more years did it take for the changes to be fully implemented?
“The true index, however, of good sanitary conditions is the number zymotic diseases in a city; for it is these that are produced by an unsanitary state of affairs. Typhoid fever is probably the best type, and its most common mode of conveyance is either by infected water or by infected milk; hence, if a city has a good water supply, a thorough inspection of dairies, and a perfect sewer system, the deaths from typhoid fever will be reduced to a minimum. While our [Oakland’s] water supply is not entirely above suspicion, and the dairymen will well bear watching, and the sewers require an occasional overhauling, a comparison with other cities shows that Oakland’s typhoid record is good, and that deaths from this disease are not a common occurrence.” 3
[There appears to have been other outbreaks of typhoid fever in Oakland ... when were they and what was the outcome? Changes in sanitation? Ordinances passed? New health standards adopted? Greater community understanding?]
Links and References
- Digging West Oakland: What Archaeologist Found Under the Cypress Freeway
City charter of the city of Oakland, California: by A. Frick
Athens of the Pacific by George W. Calderwood & G. T. Loofbourow (1897)