Tuesday, November 1, 2011

1 November 1831: Quinsy Strikes the Carr Home

On this day in 1831, the Athenian newspaper announced the sad death of Charles Nelson Carr, age 5:

Quinsy, now known as a peritonsillar abscess, is a disease not often seen in our modern world of antibiotics. It is a complication of a throat infection, usually caused by the bacteria group A beta-hemolytic streptococcus. According to Webster's New World Medical Dictionary, "If left untreated, the infection can spread deep in the neck, causing airway obstruction and life-threatening complications."

Medical practices of the 1830s were likely one aspect of the complications for anyone diagnosed with quinsy. Few formal training schools for doctors existed; the Medical College of Georgia had been chartered in Augusta three years earlier. In 1831, doctors would have used emetics and purgatives to rid the body of any ill humors, applied blister plasters to the outside of the child's throat, and used "leeches to draw out the congested blood causing inflammation" to treat quinsy. For a patient who also had a high fever, it was generally assumed he or she would survive for only three to seven days after diagnosis. 

Such treatment likely hastened the death of the patient, but germ theory, the idea "that many diseases are caused by the presence of micro-organisms within the body" would not be developed until the 1860s with the experiments and discoveries of Louis Pasteur and later, Joseph Lister and Robert Koch. Antibiotic treatment that would have cured the throat infection would not be discovered for another 100 years by Alexander Fleming.

Sadly, the Athenian reported in their next issue one week later that Charles' older sister, Mary Eliza Carr, age 11, had also succumbed to the same diseases that killed her brother:

Both children's graves were eventually moved with the rest of their departed family members to Oconee Hill Cemetery after it opened in 1856.

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