The Elephant Never Forgets

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Hans Zinsser, in 1935, when louse-borne typhus was of no concern to health workers in the United States and DDT was still unknown as an insecticide, wrote:

“Typhus is not dead. It will live for centuries, and it will continue to break into the open, whenever human stupidity and brutality give it a chance as, most likely, they occasionally will. But its freedom of action is being restricted and, more and more, it will be confined, like other savage creatures, in the zoological garden of controlled diseases.”

I have taken the long-memoried elephant as the symbol of the savage communicable diseases, whose activities are being more and more restricted but which have never lost their instinct and capacity for human destruction.

Within five years of Zinsser's prophecy, World War II, with its excess of “human stupidity and brutality,” unleashed typhus in Poland, Russia, Iran, Egypt, North Africa, Italy; in the concentration camps of Germany and Austria, and in Japan.

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