Morbid Fact Du Jour for January 27, 2018

Today’s Suspicious Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

I wanted to share some more about the dangers of Thallium:

Thallium sulphate was introduced as a pest control agent in the 1920s, and this too inevitably led to accidental deaths, suicides, and murders. Many members of an extended Mexican family were affected by eating tortillas made from a bag of Thalgrain, which had been stolen. Thalgrain consisted of barley coated with 1% thallium sulphate and was used to kill squirrels. The women who had prepared the tortillas were suspicious of the grain because it was an unusual color and appeared to be coated with something, but they decided to cook with it anyway. As a result, of the 31 people who were present at the event, 20 were taken ill and 6 died. Five died within two weeks but one member of the family lingered for a month before expiring.

A particularly large outbreak of thallium poisoning occurred in Guyana, South America, in the early 1980s when hundreds of people appear to have been affected, and 44 died. It all began when the Guyana Sugar Corporation imported 500 kg of thallium sulphate from Germany and used it to kill rats that were infesting their fields of sugar cane. For two years nothing untoward happened but then in 1983 doctors at St. Joseph’s Hospital in the Guyanese capital Georgetown began to treat people suffering from thallium poisoning. What started as a slow trickle of cases grew month by month until more than a hundred people needed treatment, and when a prominent Georgetown family reported sick then clearly something had to be done. By now there was widespread alarm as to the extent of the poisoning.

Tests on the milk which the family regularly drank revealed it was the source of the poison and checks at the farm from which they got their supply revealed sick cows suffering from thallium poisoning. They in their turn had been poisoned by eating molasses laced with thallium which had been used to deter farmers from letting their cattle wander into a nearby sugar plantation. Although the cows that ate the molasses were sickening, they continued to produce milk and this was sold to the general public. Some reports claimed that thousands of Guyanese people were affected by thallium but the US Centers for Disease Control, who were asked to investigate, found that many of the blood tests on those who thought they were suffering from thallium poisoning gave misleading results indicating levels of the metal that were totally incorrect.

Culled from: The Elements of Murder: A History of Poison


Mystery Maladies!

The Dr. Ikkaku Ochi Collection is a fascinating collection of medical photographs from the late 19th and early 20th century that had been collected by Dr. Ikkaku Ochi in Japan and was found in a box many years later.  There was no detailed information available for most of the photos, but the images are compelling because they show these composed portraits of people suffering through intense pain caused by conditions that in most cases would be resolved through treatment today.  There’s a sense of overwhelming sadness that comes through in these pictures, but also dignity and strength. I find them compelling and I thought I’d share photos from the book occasionally.


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