From the August 2002 Idaho Observer:

Smallpox/bedbug connection known since 1900s

There are very few references to the smallpox/bedbug connection in the medical journals but there are occasional anecdotal references to it in popular literature. Susan Pearce of the Wyoming Vaccination Information Network found the following excerpts in the book, “Red Walls and Homesteads,” by Helena Rubottom (1987). Pearce stumbled upon the passage quite by accident. She was reading the book to her elderly mother because the story takes place near Kaycee, Wyoming, which is where she was born and raised.

“Somewhere around this time [1914], we all sickened and Mother knew what was wrong. She had been nursing the neighbors, the Webbers; they were all down in bed and she was sure they had Smallpox. She had carried it home to us, but luckily she had had it as a child and could care for us. Doctors today deplore Folk Medicine, but she gave us Sweet Spirits of Nitre for the fever and baking soda sponges for the itching, and it did help.”

[At this time Lee was about four years old and the author, Helena (Betty) Thomas Rubottom, was about six].

“Dr. Blake came down from Buffalo to see us. He was the Health Officer and someone had reported we were all sick; we didn't send for him. We were afraid of him, particularly Lee and me. He talked to Lee gently and coaxed him onto his lap. 'Now show me your biggest smallpox sore,' he said.

Lee opened his pajamas and, exposed himself, he sobbed, 'See Doc, it's right on the end of my wetter.' Mother was beet red, and started to apologize, but the good doctor waved her away and talked on with Lee, telling him not to scratch and it would be better tomorrow. More laughs.”

“Before we could take down the quarantine sign, we had to fumigate according to directions. Dr. Blake left Formaldehyde, which was to be put in a boiler of boiling water and left to boil as long as the fire held. This was some process, but guess what it did to the bedbugs?! They either died or left, for we never saw another one.”

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