About Erysipelas

As noted in the blog post What the Tombstones Tell, 23-year-old Everett Truby died in 1896 from a skin infection called erysipelas.

The 1895 medical book called Warren’s Household Physician, Enlarged and Revised, for the Use of Physicians, Families, Mariners, and Miners, by Ira Warren and Alvan Edmond Small (Published by I. Bradley & Co, Boston) includes this information about this sometimes-deadly infection.

The entire book is available online via the Library of Congress at https://www.loc.gov/item/07009994/

Erysipelas. — St Anthony’s Fire.  

Erysipelas is a diffused inflammation of the skin, affecting only a part of the surface of the body, and is accompanied by a fever, which is generally thought to be infectious and contagious. The local inflammation is disposed to spread; it extends deep, and is attended by swelling, a tingling, burning, and pungent heat, and by a redness, which disappears when the skin is pressed by the finger, and returns on remitting the pressure.

Symptoms. — The constitutional symptoms are chilliness and shaking, succeeded by heat ; lowness of spirits, lassitude, pains in the

back and limbs, pains in the head, quick and hard pulse, thirst, loss of appetite, white and coated tongue, bitterness of mouth, nausea, vomiting, pain in stomach, and costiveness.

These symptoms go before the local inflammation several days; they increase with the redness of the skin, and disappear upon its decline. The nervous system is sometimes severely affected, and indicated by low, muttering delirium. At the close of the inflammation there is generally a relaxation of the bowels, and the scar skin peels off. Sometimes matter forms under the skin, and occasionally mortification occurs.

The face is the most frequent seat of the disease. It commonly begins on one side of the nose, and soon spreads over one side of the face, closing up the eye, and changing the features in a shocking manner. See Plate III, Fig. 1.

Somewhere about the third, fourth, or fifth day, very minute blisters appear on the inflamed parts, filled with water, which increases until the blisters break and let it out. The disease comes to a head on the eighth or ninth day, when the blistered parts dry, and the skin begins to peel off.

Treatment. — In the treatment two things are to be done, — to subdue the fever, and the local inflammation. The fever is assuaged by rest, mild diet, gentle laxatives, etc.; and by the use of tincture of veratrum. For the local inflammation, various things have been advised, but nitrate of silver, on the whole, has the preference.

First wash the inflamed part with soap and water to remove any oily substance, and wipe the skin dry. Then moisten the inflamed and surrounding skin, and pass over it a stick of nitrate of silver, touching not only the inflamed part, but going even an inch beyond it on all sides. Or, a solution of nitrate of silver and nitric acid will in many cases, according to Dr. Higginbottom, do even better. A solution of coperas is a good application.

In mild cases, flour may be dusted on the inflamed part from the dredging-box. Warm fomentations are also useful, and cloths wet with water, and laid on. A solution of per. chloride of iron, applied to the inflamed skin, is much used now. 

In erysipelas the powers of the system are generally reduced, and tonics, such as quinine, wine, etc., are generally required. Dr. Robert Williams, — high authority in these matters — says he puts his patients upon milk diet, gently opens the bowels, and gives them, daily, from four to six ounces of port wine, together with sago, and that he seldom has to change this course, whatever the symptoms.

For the inflamed skin, a tea made of buckwheat meal, is a good wash. Alcohol and water, or new rum, may be used for the same purpose.

In the Leechburg Advance newspaper

In addition, the Leechburg Advance newspapers sometimes ran ads or brief advice for treating erysipelas and other ailments, including this blurb dated June 19, 1896, page 8 — less than a month after Everett’s Death.