Home Our History Killers before Covid were Diphtheria & Typhoid

Killers before Covid were Diphtheria & Typhoid

Killers befor Covid were Diphtheria & Typhoid
A terrible postulant sore throat typical of Diphtheria

Killers before Covid were Diphtheria & Typhoid.

Before Covid, diphtheria and typhoid were killer diseases.

Sadly, numerous of their victims were children, the toll was gut-wrenching.


Often families lost more than one child to the silent killers.



Diphtheria appears to have edged out typhoid with children’s deaths.

For example, the Byrnes family of Bingara felt the full “rage” of diphtheria.

Bingara Mayor John Byrnes and his wife Matilda lost three children to diphtheria in the 1890s. Nellie (7 years) and Raey (5 years) were buried within days of each other. Brother John had died earlier.

Unfortunately, children were killed well after the 1800s.

In the period 1924-1933 40,000 kids were infected in NSW, 1700 had died. This certainly illustrates diphtheria’s potency, over four kids in ten infected, died.

Double trouble

Diphtheria and typhoid had been around since white man arrived and the killers soon spread to the settlements. The following report in 1891 illustrates the ongoing fear of a double dose.

‘Diphtheria seems to be going away, but it is feared that we shall be visited by that terrible fever, typhoid.’ Source Sydney Mail and NSW Advertiser Saturday 18 July 1891.

The report also said one case had appeared in Bingara, three in the country and two at Warialda.

Typhoid also provoked continual newspaper reports, which added to the fear.


The following reports illustrated the killer was at work over years.

Emmaville: A mother and eight children living near Emmaville were infected with typhoid fever and two children died. (1899)

Texas Qld: Eight children infected, two aged 4 years and two years died. (1942)

Melbourne: Five adults and four children died of typhoid. (1943)

Inverell: Typhoid was raging in the town with twenty-one people in the hospital. Others were in a private hospital. (1902)

Typhoid or gastritis 

The following deaths in1915 seem questionable.

The Moree Gwydir Examiner and General Advertiser Tuesday 7 December 1915 reported on the death of three children.

‘Mr. and Mrs. W. Kerrigan, who reside a few miles out of Bingara, have lost three of their children in a single week. The children had acute inflammation of the bowls.

A boy died on Monday. The other two went to the hospital the same day.

On Tuesday one of the girls died, and the other passed away the following night.

It was reported that the sickness was probably caused by eating unripened fruit.’

Death by eating unripened fruit is suspicious. Was the killer typhoid or a type of gastritis? One shall never know, however regardless of what the cause was, it was a shocking situation.

In the early days of Australia, the spread of the disease was caused by poor sanitary conditions and therefore preventive actions were very important.

Thus, officials made random inspections of public areas. This is clear from a court case in 1910 involving two hotels.

Bingara hotels

The Moree Gwydir Examiner and General Advertise Tuesday 16 March 1910 reported:

‘Two cases were heard at the Police Court this morning, which be of special interest in view of the typhoid epidemic in Bingara.’

The action was taken against the Central and Imperial hotels for unsanitary conditions.’

The Magistrate dismissed the case as the resident’s toilets were cleaned by the staff. However, while those for the general public were more difficult to keep clean. And a single inspection was not a good indication.

The newspapers published considerable information about prevention and compliance. However, outbreaks continued and a case at Myall Creek near Bingara showed that farms were not excluded from infection.

Myall Creek

The Myall Creek infections were reported on by Sydney Morning Herald Tuesday 30 October 1888.

‘Dr. Knowles reports that every precaution has been taken by the station authorities to prevent the spread of typhoid. It appears the men were camped in a hut and used their dirty clothes after shearing as a pillow.’

After the outbreak, the shearers were moved to tents and their water was filtered. Luckily all fully recovered.

The important thing is that this case confirms as far back as 1888, the need for preventive action was known.

Typhoid and diphtheria management

By the 1940s the chance of typhoid infections was improved sanitation and personal habits. Better water management, vaccination, and medical treatments also played a part.

Regarding diphtheria immunisation, both Bingara and Warialda commenced in 1934.

The Warialda Standard on Monday 14 May 1934 reported:

‘Owing to the serious outbreak at Bingara recently immunization was adopted there. Altogether five hundred children have been treated to render them immune to diphtheria.

Meanwhile, at Warialda the council and the hospital board decided parents would pay four shillings for each child. For poor families, the cost immunisation would be paid to the two organisations.

History of typhoid.


History of diphtheria.


Typhoid symptoms

Killers before Covid were DIphtheria & Typhoid

According to online sources the symptoms of typhoid are:

‘Symptoms of typhoid fever range from mild to serious and usually develop one to three weeks after exposure to the bacteria. Symptoms include fever, headache, nausea, constipation or diarrhea, loss of appetite, and a rose-colored rash on the body. 

Typhoid fever symptoms are similar to those of other common gastrointestinal illnesses. The only way to know that a person is ill with typhoid is to have their blood or faeces assessed. for Salmonella typhi.’

Diphtheria symptoms

An online source said the symptoms are:

‘Diphtheria is caused by bacteria called Corynebacterium diphtheriae. The bacteria secrete a powerful toxin that causes damage to body tissues.

Early symptoms of diphtheria are similar to those of a common cold. They include sore throat, loss of appetite, and fever.

 As the disease progresses, the most notable feature of diphtheria infection may emerge: a thick gray substance called a pseudomembrane may spread over the nasal tissues, tonsils, larynx, and/or pharynx.

The pseudomembrane is formed from waste products and proteins related to the toxin secreted by the bacteria. The pseudomembrane sticks to tissues and may obstruct breathing.’

SOURCERodney King
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