Philosophical Transactions. For the months of January, February and March, 1714 - Part III.

Ⅲ. An Extract from the Acta Eruditorum for the Month of March, 1713. Pag. 111.

De Contagiosâ Epidemiâ, quae in patavino agro & totâ fere venetâ ditione in boves irrepsit, differtatio. Auctore Bernardino Ramazzini, practice medicince professore publico. Patavii, 1712. in 8vo.

A dissertation concerning the dreadful contagious distemper. seizing the black cattle in the Venetian territories, and especially about Padua.

It is now (at the publishing the discourse) a year and half, since a dreadful, unexpected and violent contagion has seiz'd the black cattle, which, like an increasing fire, could neither be extinguish'd nor stopt by any human means.
This first began to be observ'd a little in Agro Vincentino, and soon discover'd it self more openly in the country, spreading it self every way even to the very suburbs of Padua, with a cruel destruction of the cows and oxen. It has also been taken notice in Germany, in many places; nor has it been yet wholly conquer'd, publick news informing us, that it still remains in the territories of Milan.
Of this so threatning a distemper, the famous Dr. Ramazzini1, according to his yearly custom, on November 9, 1711. made a particular dissertation; in which he inquir'd into the canses of the distemper, and shew'd what remedies might be us'd, to put a stop to its violent course2.
It is sufficiently evident, that this distemper, in the cow-kind, was a true fever, from the coldness, rigor and standing up of the hair of the cattle at first, which was soon succecded by a violent sharp burning, with a quick pulse. That this fever was malignant, mortal and pestilential, its concomitant symptoms plainly shew'd; such as great uneasiness with difficulty of breathing, great pantings with a sort of snorting, and at the beginning a kind of stupor and drowziness, a continual flux of a strong smelling matter from the nose and mouth, a very fetid dung, sometimes with blood, all rumination ceasing, pustules breaking out over the whole body on the 5th or 6th day, like the small-pox; they all generally dy'd about the 5th or 7th day, very few of them escaping.
The author deduces this distemper from a contagious original. He tells us, it is certain, that out of a great drove, such as the merchants bring yearly into Italy out of Dalmatia and the bordering countries, one beast happen'd to straggle from the rest, and be left behind; which a cowherd finding, brought to a farm belonging to the illustrious and reverend Count Borromeo, Canon of Padua. This beast infected all the cows and oxen of the place where he was taken in, with the same distemper he labour'd under; the beast it self dying in a few days, as did all the rest, except one only, who had a rowel put into his neck.
'Tis no strange thing therefore, if from the essluvia, like an atmosphere, proceeding from the sick cattle, from those dead, and from the cowhouses and pastures where they were fed, and by that means infected, and chiefly from the cloaths of the cowherds themselves, this infection falling upon a proper subject, should diffuse it self so largely. When therefore this subtile venomous exhalation happens to meet with any of the cow kind, joining it self with the ferous juices and animal spirits, whilst it is carry'd all over the body, disorders the natural consistence of the blood, and corrupts the ferments of the viscera; whence it naturally follows, that the natural functions of the viscera are vitiated, and the requisite secretions stop'd. For3
Dr. Ramazzini not only supposes, but asserts, that this poison is of that kind which rather fixes and coagulates, than dissolves the blood; for besides the forementioned symptoms accompanying the disease, the eye it self is a witness; since the dead carcases being open'd while they are yet hot, little or no blood nevertheless runs out; those animals having naturally a thick blood, especially when the fever has continued so many days. Whether therefore this plague came first from the foreign beast, or any other way, it is the same thing, when at last it fell upon some animal in which there was the morbid seminary or ground prepared for it.
In the dead bodies of all the cattle it was particularly observed, that in the omasus, or paunch, there was found a hard compact body, firmly adhering to the coats of the ventricle, of a large bulk, and an intolerable smell. In other parts, as in the brain, lungs, &c. were several hydatides, and large bladers fill'd only with wind, which being open'd gave a deadly stink; there were also ulcers at the root of the tongue, and bladders fill'd with a serum on the sides of it. This hard and compact body, like chalk, in the omasus, the author takes to be the first product of the contagious miasma. He adds a prognostick, believing that from so many attempts and experiments, and the method observ'd in the cure of this venom, at last a true and specifick remedy will be found out to extirpate the poisonous malignity wholly. He also expects some mitigation of it, from the approaching winter and north winds. He does not think this contagion can affect human bodies, since even other species of ruminating animals, symbolizing with the cow-kind, are yet untouch'd by it; nor was the infection catch'd from the air, provided due care was taken in the burying the dead bodies.
As for the cure of it: from the chirurgical4 part he commends bleeding, burning on both sides of the neck with a broad red hot iron, making holes in the ears with a round iron, and putting the root of hellebore in the hole, a rowel or seton under the chin, in the dewlaps; he also orders tongue and palate to be often wash'd and rub'd with vinegar and salt.
As for the pharmactutical part; he recommends alexipharmicks, and specifick cordials; and from the vegetable kingdom, three ounces of jesuits bark, infus'd in 10 or 12 pints of cordial water or small wine, to be given in 4 or 5 doses; which is to be done in the beginning of the fever, when the beast begins to be sick. From the animal, two drams of sperma ceti dissolv'd in warm wine. From the mineral, antimonium diaphoreticum, against worms breeding, an infusion of quicksilver or petroleum and milk is to be given. And lastly, as to the food, drinks made with barly or wheat flower or bread, like a ptisane, fresh sweet hay made in May and macerated in fair water. In the mean time the cattle must be kept in a warm place, and cloath'd, to keep them as much as possible from the cold air, daily making fumigations in the cowhouses with juniper berries, galbanum, and the like. As to prevention, he enjoyns care in cleaning the stalls, and scraping the crust off from the walls; care also is to be taken of their food, that it be good, the hay and straw not spoil'd by rain in the making and judges their food ought to be but sparing; friction, rubbing and currying not only with the hand, but with a currycomb and brush; with setons under their chin, made with a hot iron run through the part, and kept open with a rope put through it.

A pdf version of the entire text of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London can be found here (this article begins on page 46).


  1. Famous indeed, as Dr. Bernardino Ramazzini is known as the father of occupational medicine. Dr. Ramazzini published De Morbis Artificum Diatrib in 1700, which contained his collection of observations regarding the correlation between a work area and associated disease. []
  2. See my previous article for the 'recipe' that was being used for a cure. []
  3. OCR must have left a random 'for' as a part of the scanned text. []
  4. Supposed archaic definition of relating to surgery. []

Leave a Reply