Living

Early postcards sought to ease tourists’ fears of mosquitoes

The early diseases carried by the aedes aegypti are of the past, but the mosquito is still with us and has recently been connected to the Zika Virus.
The early diseases carried by the aedes aegypti are of the past, but the mosquito is still with us and has recently been connected to the Zika Virus. Postcard courtesy of Randy Randazzo

Armed to the teeth, the “Lord Mayor of Panicburg” is ready for battle against “Madame Stegomyia” as caricatured on this Oct. 18, 1905, postcard.

Stegomyia is the former name for Aedes, as in the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which has stalked the Gulf Coast from the earliest times. Commonly known as the yellow fever mosquito, the Aedes aegypti carries yellow fever, dengue fever, chikungunya and more recently the Zika virus.

The city of Biloxi circulated this 1905 card to prove to potential tourists that the city was free of the disease. The figures were not only inaccurate, but biased as well.

Note the absence of cases in Biloxi, but the overall 120 cases in the other towns, which were the city’s competitors. Actually, the last count by health officials in November that year shows 262 cases along the Mississippi Coast. That was a big drop from the 1897 epidemic during which, from New Orleans to Mobile, 5,160 people were infected and 413 died.

The bite of the female Aedes aegypti and her preference for human blood spreads the diseases that she carries. This wicked lady delivers her eggs in standing water in man-made containers such as gutters, rain and water barrels, garbage cans, bird-baths, empty flower pots, jars and soda pop cans.

In a dry container, she lays the eggs around the walls of the inside. After rain or other fresh water fills the container, the larvae is hatched and, upon maturity, the mosquitoes fly away on their deadly mission.

The yellow fever season lasted from the first warm spell to the first killing frost.

The final yellow fever epidemic was in 1905.

Once discovered that the disease was not contagious but spread by the winged culprit, mosquito eradication programs rid the Mississippi Coast and the nation from the yellow scourge.

Murella H. Powell, a local historian, writes the weekly Flashback column. Do you have a local photograph to submit to Flashback? It can be of any subject or event in the Coast’s distant or recent past. Please send a description with your name, address and daytime phone number to Flashback, the Sun Herald, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi MS 39535; or call 896-2424; or email living@sunherald.com.

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