Many doctors are dedicated to their profession and will make untold sacrifices to help those that are suffering. However, Stubbins Ffirth, a doctor-in-training living in Philadelphia during the early 19th century went further than most.
Having observed that yellow fever ran riot only during the summer months he hypothesized it was not a contagious disease. He thought it was caused by an excess of stimulants such as heat, food and noise. He set out to prove that no matter how much he exposed himself to yellow fever, he would not catch it.
He started by making deep incisions in his arms into which he poured “fresh black vomit” from a yellow-fever patient. He didn’t get sick. But he did not stop there. He dribbled the stuff in his eyes. He filled a room with heated “regurgitation vapours” – a vomit sauna- and remained there for 2 hours, breathing in the air. Still he did not get yellow fever.
Next Ffirth began ingesting the vomit. He fashioned some of the black matter into pills and swallowed them down. He mixed half an ounce of fresh vomit with water and drank it. “The taste was very slightly acid,” he wrote. “It is probable that if I had not, previous to the two last experiments, accustomed myself to tasting ad smelling it, that emesis would have been the consequence.” Finally, he gathered his courage and drank pure undiluted black vomit fresh from a patient’s mouth. Still he did not get sick.
He finally finished his experiment by liberally smearing himself with other yellow-fever tainted fluids: blood, saliva, perspiration, and urine. Healthy as ever, he declared is hypothesis proved in his 1804 thesis. Unfortunately, he was wrong. We know today yellow fever is very contagious but requires direct transmission into the blood stream by a mosquito bite.