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

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)

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)

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

West Kelowna firefighters practice swiftwater rescue techniques in the Shuswap River in Cherryville April 20. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
West Kelowna firefighters make a splash in North Okanagan

Swift water rescue training brings team to Cherryville’s Shuswap River

Nick Trask, 36, and Ryan Ellison, 35, died in a boat collision on Osoyoos Lake in 2019. (Facebook photo)
Meth, excessive speed found as factors in Osoyoos boat crash deaths

Nick Trask, 36, and Ryan Ellison, 35, died in a boat collision on Osoyoos Lake in 2019

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as she walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
54 more cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Thirty-two people in the region are in hospital with the virus, 11 of them in intensive care

The automated external defibrillator, like the one pictured here, was stolen from the Skaha Lake Boathouse for the second time in a year. (File)
Life-saving device stolen from Penticton paddler community for second time

It’s hoped that a new boathouse will be able to better protect the device

Penticton Secondary School grade 12 student and organizer of Wednesday’s (April 21) Earth Day clean-up Rachel Jung cleans up Okanagan Beach with grade 9 students Easton Souch, Ethan Gordon, Sylas Denninger and Aydan Young. (Jesse Day - Western News)
Penticton High School students spend the day cleaning up town

‘The Okanagan is such a beautiful place… it’s really sad to see litter everywhere,’ said organizer

A large crowd protested against COVID-19 measures at Sunset Beach in Vancouver on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. (Snapchat)
VIDEO: Large, police-patrolled crowds gather at Vancouver beach for COVID protests

Vancouver police said they patrolled the area and monitored all gatherings

Virtual meetings are taking a toll on local governance, according to multiple mayors in the North Okanagan. (Headway photo)
Virtual meetings leave North Okanagan politicians out of touch

More than a year of Zoom has led to a disconnect between officials, according to local mayors

FILE – The Instagram app is shown on an iPhone in Toronto on Monday, March 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
Judge acquits B.C. teen boy ‘set up’ on sex assault charge based on Instagram messages

The girl and her friends did not have ‘good intentions’ towards the accused, judge says

Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, walks down the street with an acquaintance after leaving B.C. Supreme Court during a lunch break at her extradition hearing, in Vancouver, B.C., Thursday, April 1, 2021. A judge is scheduled to release her decision today on a request to delay the final leg of hearings in Meng Wanzhou’s extradition case. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rich Lam
B.C. judge grants Meng Wanzhou’s request to delay extradition hearings

Lawyers for Canada’s attorney general had argued there is no justification to delay proceedings in the case

B.C. Premier John Horgan announces travel restrictions between the province’s regional health authorities at the legislature, April 19, 2021. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. sees 862 more COVID-19 cases Wednesday, seven deaths

Recreational travel restrictions set to begin Friday

Kai Palkeinen recently helped a car stuck on the riverbed near the Big Eddy Bridge. While the car could not be saved, some of the driver’s belongings were. It’s common for vehicles to get stuck in the area due to significantly changing river levels from Revelstoke Dam. (Photo by Kai Palkeinen)
‘I just sank a car’: Revelstoke resident wants the Columbia River better protected

Although it’s not permitted, the riverbed near the city is popular for off roading

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson is photographed following her budget speech in the legislative assembly at the provincial legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. budget lacks innovative drive, vision during uncertain times, say experts

Finance Minister Selina Robinson’s budget sets out to spend $8.7 billion over three years on infrastructure

Using panels kept cold by water circulating within them, B.C. researchers compared thermal comfort in 60 of the world’s most populous cities, including Toronto. (Lea Ruefenacht)
B.C. researchers use air conditioning to combat spread of COVID particles

Dr. Adam Rysanek and his team have proven a new worthwhile system – a mixture of cooling panels and natural ventilation

Police road checks are coming for people travelling between regions while COVID-19 travel restrictions are in place. (Black Press file photo)
B.C. clarifies COVID-19 travel restrictions, Lower Mainland a single zone

Vehicle checks on highways, at ferry terminals to start Friday

Most Read