Where Are They Now? Diseases That Killed You in Oregon Trail

You have died of dysentery.

These are five words familiar to anyone who has attempted to caulk a wagon and ford rivers en route to the Willamette Valley. Oregon Trail not only taught generations of kids about Western migration in 19th-century America, it also familiarized them with various strange-sounding diseases. Let’s catch up with some of those diseases and find out if they're just as nasty today.

1. Everyone Has Cholera

Then: The number one killer of the actual Oregon Trail, cholera is an infection of the intestines caused by ingesting the bacteria Vibrio cholerae. Spread through contaminated food or water, cholera released an enterotoxin that effectively flooded the intestines with excess water. This led to continual watery diarrhea, causing severe dehydration and often death. The worst outbreaks occurred on the Oregon Trail in 1849, 1850 and 1852. The only available treatment in the game was a medicine known as laudanum—understood today to be pure opium.

Now: According to the Centers for Disease Control, cholera remains a global pandemic. Though there is still no vaccine for the disease (in the U.S.), it can be treated with a regimen of fluids and electrolytes, as well as antibiotics. The best defense remains stringent sanitation regulations, a luxury afforded primarily to industrialized countries. The World Health Organization has recorded recent outbreaks in Mexico (November 2013), Sierra Leone (August 2012), Democratic Republic of Congo (July 2011), Haiti (November 2010, October 2010), Pakistan (October 2010) and a severe outbreak in Zimbabwe (June 2009, March 2009, February 2009, January 2009, December 2008).

2. Joseph Has Diphtheria

Then: Caused by Corynebacterium diphtheriae, diphtheria is an airborne bacterial disease. It usually showed up first in the nose and throat, but could also surface as skin lesions. A gray, fibrous material would grow over airways, causing difficulty breathing and sometimes uncontrollable drooling, as well as a deep cough and chills. Diphtheria was most common on the Trail during the winter months.

Now: Routine childhood immunizations have nearly erased diphtheria in the U.S. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, there are less than five cases here a year. Though it is still a problem in crowded nations with poor hygiene, diphtheria is now rarely fatal.

3. You Have Dysentery

Then: Dysentery, a.k.a. shigellosis, was not as widespread on the trails as its peer cholera. During the 19th century, dysentery was a bigger problem on the Civil War battlefields. Like cholera, dysentery spread via contaminated water and food, thriving in hot and humid weather. Unlike cholera, dysentery lived in the colon and caused bloody, loose excrement. The rise of dysentery in the 1800s was partially due to infected warm cow’s milk, an ideal incubator for shigellosis.

Now: Dysentery is still a major threat to the developing world. Not only is there no effective vaccine, recent strains are increasingly resistant to antibiotics—the only proven line of defense in tandem with fluids. 

4. Sally Has Measles

Then: Evolved from the rinderpest virus, the highly contagious measles ravaged the United States in the 19th century. It was not measles, but complications like bronchitis and pneumonia, that made it life threatening. Measles was spread through contaminated droplets—coughing, sneezing, wiping one’s nose and then touching anything. It caused nasty rashes, fever, and conjunctivitis.

Now: A vaccine was discovered in the mid-20th century, virtually eradicating measles from the developed world. It is now part of the trifecta inoculation MMR (Measles-Mumps-Rubella) most American children receive in infancy and again at age 6. Though relatively contained, measles is still endemic: In 2009, there was an outbreak in Johannesburg and other parts of South Africa. New Zealand saw a small spike in August 2011, with nearly 100 cases popping up in Auckland. And as of May 16, 2014, there have been 15 outbreaks in the U.S., resulting in 216 cases of measles in 18 states, "the highest number of cases reported in the United States during this time period in 18 years," Dr. Greg Wallace, head of measles activities at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN. (Notably, that number doesn't include the latest cases from an outbreak in Ohio.) Most of the people who got measles were unvaccinated and got the disease while traveling; measles then spread among unvaccinated members of the community when the travelers returned home.

5. Mary Has Died of Typhoid Fever

Then: Unfamiliar with the virtues of boiling water first, Oregon Trail pioneers contracted typhoid like many other diseases—from contaminated water. Caused by Salmonella Typhi, typhoid was spread when an infected person “sheds” the bacteria. Sparing you the gross details, let’s just say the bacteria lived in a person’s blood and intestines. The major symptom was high fever, followed by weakness and loss of appetite. In the warmer months, typhoid was a real killer.

Now: Still a killer, though not in the Western world. The CDC says it’s preventable with good sanitation and antibiotics, but even Westerners are not immune when traveling in developing countries. The CDC strongly recommends anyone planning travel to a "non-industrialized" nation get vaccinated—and avoid any tap water or food cooked in unclean water.

This story originally appeared in 2011.

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Citroën
These Funky Glasses Are Designed to Reduce Motion Sickness
Citroën
Citroën

There's nothing like a sudden wave of nausea to ruin a scenic road trip or a cruise. According to Visuall, the French car company Citroën has made a product that allows you to fight motion sickness without medication.

Their glass-less spectacles, called SEETROËN, implement technology first developed by the French startup Boarding Ring. Motion sickness occurs when the information we receive from our inner ear doesn't match up with what we see in front of us. SEETROËN tackles this problem in a simple way: Liquid at the bottom of all four rings (two in front of the eyes, two at the peripheries) responds to gravity and changes in movement the same way the fluid in your inner ear does. By having an "artificial horizon" to look at when you're in the back of a bumpy car, your visual senses should realign with your sense of balance, and you'll no longer feel queasy.

The accessory isn't exactly fashionable, unless maybe you're going for a space-age look, but you shouldn't worry about appearing goofy for too long. After staring at a still object like a book through the glasses for 10 to 12 minutes, you can remove them and continue to enjoy the benefits as you proceed with your trip, the company claims.

SEETROËN is currently out of stock at Citroën's lifestyle store, with the next shipment estimated for September. The company claims the spectacles show positive results 95 percent of the time, and the technology it uses won an INNOV'inMed award for health innovation. But like with any new technology meant to treat a medical condition, users should be cautious. Time-tested ways to prevent motion sickness include sitting in the front seat of a car, eating something light before you travel, and focusing your gaze on something outside the nearest window.

[h/t Visuall]

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iStock
5 Simple and Painless Ways to Remove a Splinter
iStock
iStock

Splinters are as sneaky as they are annoying. You never see one coming, but once one gets embedded in you, you’re definitely going to feel it. The most common way to pull one of these out of your body is to grab a pair of tweezers and just start digging. While that might work for splinters that haven't lodged too deep into your body, it’s far from ideal for the ones completely under the surface. Plus, it hurts.

Thankfully, you don’t always need sharp instruments or a trip to the doctor to get rid of those stubborn splinters—there are plenty of items lying around your house right now that can help draw them out. So the next time you find yourself with a painful piece of wood or other material stuck in your foot, finger, etc. be sure to wash the affected area with soap and warm water and give one of these simple—and painless—remedies a try.

1. SOAK IT IN EPSOM SALTS.

Epsom salts are an incredibly versatile cure-all for common ailments like sunburn and sore muscles. But one of its lesser known uses is the fact that it can help bring deep splinters to the surface of your skin.

To get this to work, just dissolve a cup of the salts into a warm bath and soak whatever part of the body has the splinter. Failing that, you can also put some of the salts onto a bandage pad and leave it covered for a day; this will eventually help bring the splinter to the surface. Both methods help to draw the splinter out, which you can then pull out completely with a tweezer.

2. SLAP A BANANA PEEL ON TOP OF IT.

They can do everything from whiten your teeth to shine your shoes, but banana peels can also rid you of your splinter woes. Simply take a portion of a ripe peel and tape the inside portion over the area with the splinter. From there, the enzymes in the peel will get to work by softening your skin and helping the splinter move closer to the surface.

Some say just a few minutes is often all it takes, but if you can leave it on longer (especially overnight), you’ll have a better chance that the splinter will surface. Sometimes it will be drawn out far enough that it will come out on its own when you remove the peel; other times you may still need to use a pair of tweezers to finish the job. And if it doesn’t work after one night, replace the peel and leave it on for another day.

Don’t have a banana handy? You can also try a potato slice using essentially the same method: Place the skinless side on the area, hold in place with a bandage, and leave it on overnight. Then remove it and see if the splinter has surfaced.

3. MAKE A BAKING SODA PASTE.

First, before you do anything, clean the affected area with soap and water. Then combine a little water with ¼ of a tablespoon of baking soda to make a paste that you can then spread on the splinter. Once the paste is spread, cover the area with a bandage and keep it just like that for a full 24 hours.

You should notice that the splinter has made its way to the surface, where you can now simply just remove it. If you still can't get a hold of it, you can repeat the same procedure until the splinter is sufficiently brought above the skin.

4. USE SOME TAPE.

This method is best when a splinter is already drawn to the surface a bit but tweezers just won’t do. Simply take a piece of tape—go for something a little stronger, like duct tape—and place it over the splinter. Once the tape is secure (leave it on for a few minutes), gently pull it off. You may have to repeat this a few times to coax the splinter out. For a little added security, soak the area in warm water first to soften the skin.

5. VINEGAR OR OIL.

Another simple way to draw out that stubborn splinter is to soak the affected area in oil (olive or corn) or white vinegar. Just pour some in a bowl and soak the area for around 20 to 30 minutes, then eyeball the splinter and see where it is. If it looks closer to the surface, but not enough to pull out, soak it longer. Once it gets far enough out, just remove it and wash the area with soap and water.

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