The headline certainly stands out: “Cholera losses are heavy here” directly under the masthead of The Dunn County News, Nov. 8, 1917 — 100 years ago this week.
As it turns out, the loss of life was among hogs, not humans, but the loss was staggering: 1,000 dead at deadline, with the epidemic still raging.
The disease, which we now know as classical swine fever (CSF), had some thorny characteristics for Dunn County farmers. The virus that caused it was highly contagious and could be carried by any creature traveling from one farm to another: a person, a dog, a bird. It was also infectious before any symptoms were apparent, so you could visit a farm before you know its hogs were sick, and then carry it back to your herd.
CSF causes fever (as you would expect), skin lesions, convulsions, and usually death within 15 days.
State Senator Al C. Anderson requested that veterinarians from the State Veterinary office rush to Dunn County. Dr. Wolcott came from Madison, and Dr. Collins from Chippewa Falls.
Wolcott and Collins recommended vaccinating every herd in the area as quickly as possible. Dunn County’s veterinarians started right in, and Menomonie’s School of Agriculture (“Aggie”) joined in the effort.
It wasn’t cheap for the farmer. Serum for a 100-pound hog ran about 50 cents, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but would be about $9 today, adjusting for inflation. That meant a farm with 100 hogs would pay today’s equivalent of $900. But inoculating a healthy herd was the only safeguard: Once any hog had any symptoms, it was too late for the herd. Whole-herd slaughter was the only answer.
Goldfine to blame
So how did it get to Dunn County in the first place? Strong evidence suggested a fellow named Abe Goldfine was to blame.
Goldfine, a stock buyer, rented a Town of Red Cedar farm, where he held hogs before shipping them to market. Goldfine had brought in a herd from out of state, and many hogs in that herd had been held up and denied passage at the state line.
Farmers were required to report all cases of “hog cholera” immediately and the penalties were stiff — a fine of anywhere between $20 and $200 ($360 to $3,600 today) and, potentially, imprisonment.
Town of Red Cedar health officer J.D. Millar procured a warrant for the arrest of Goldfine, but Goldfine disappeared before the warrant could be served. When Millar arrived with the sheriff, he found a horrific scene on the farm, which you, dear reader, probably don’t want me to describe.
The disease had already spread from the Town of Red Cedar to the towns of Menomonie, Sherman, Tainter, Spring Brook, Peru, and Rock Creek. Some Dunn County farmers lost as much as $50,000 in livestock. And now it was making its way east in the direction of Colfax. But vaccinations were slowing the rate of infections. The disease was peaking.
CSF has been a worldwide problem for a long time. The United States suffered its last outbreak in 1978, so it is apparently eradicated here. Health officials believe it has also been eradicated in Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, and Scandinavia. England had thought the country was free of the disease by the mid-1960s, but it had another outbreak in 2000 — 35 years after “eradication.”
It remains endemic in much of Asia, Central and South America, and parts of Europe and Africa. Vigilance and strong USDA funding and enforcement are our best bets to keep CSF at bay, and keep any more such headlines out of The Dunn County News.