WEEKEND WEB: Mosquito bite reminded me of the days when opium was used regularly
LOOKING BACK: By Tim Machin of Long Sutton District Society
Last week my wife complained that she had been bitten during the night by a mosquito. She seems to attract them, which is good for me as it means that when she is around I usually escape the itchy after effects!
The Civic Society will be publishing in time for Christmas a revised history of Long Sutton, more of which next month, but in the final proofread I came across this extract of relevance to my wife’s discomfort.
‘Fen Aque. Often called the fever and generally recognised as a type of malaria’.
The symptoms included severe shivering and pains in the limbs followed by fever. It regularly affected those living in and visiting the area, leaving a good number of the population weak and sickly, and it was most prevalent in coastal areas.
Thus, it might have been carried by the brackish-water mosquito Anopheles maculipennis subspecies atroparvus. One means of easing the symptoms was the use of opium, which was readily available and sold commercially in lumps or liquid versions.
So readily available, indeed, it has been suggested that some working parents gave their babies opium (or laudanum) to quieten them. The downside to this is that opium is very addictive.
The ague did not begin to lose its dreadful potency until the 19th century, and there is some evidence that opium use in this respect lingered until the 1920s.
The reason for the fever’s decline is not clear, as there was no deliberate attempt to wipe it out. An increase in and improvement in Fen drainage is often put forward as a major reason. Another, that the mosquitoes simply stopped coming indoors.’ Fortunately malaria has been eradicated in the EU area and although mozzies are widespread across the continent including the UK, they do not carry the malaria-causing parasite.
A bit of internet research though reveals that female mosquitoes tend to come into homes or other buildings during the autumn to overwinter and will remain active rather than hibernate, which suggests a liberal spraying of proprietary insecticide is warranted in our household.
Alternatively we could resort to laudanum! It is not uncommon to see fields of poppies being grown commercially for opium production in Lincolnshire and across the country over 6,000 acres of the crop are grown annually for morphine production. In the past, because of the medical benefits of laudanum, many gardens would boast a poppy patch to enable local harvesting.
Apart from home cures, there were many commercial remedies including the substance for treating headaches, insomnia, neuralgia, consumption, dysentery, period pains and nervousness.
For children, in widespread use were Steedman’s Powder which was given to calm teething babies, ‘Infant’s Quietness Soothing Syrup’ which no doubt got them off to sleep in no time and Godfrey’s Cordial to treat colic and ‘fretfulness’.
Apart from the dangers of addiction, the dosage was critical and a few extra drops could kill. Widespread use of laudanum started to be controlled by the Pharmacy Act of 1868 but it was several decades before widespread use ceased.