The first violation of the immune system: hay fever

In March, 1819, a physician named John Bostock presented to the Medical and surgical society of London a description of the symptoms of a disease — as it turned out, his own. This description referred to “periodic damage to the eyes and chest,” which began in mid-June each year. Bostock believed that the sun caused this disease, but in fact he described the symptoms of hay fever.

This disease was new in great Britain and apparently quite rare. In 1828, Bostock described another 28 cases of “summer catarrh,” or summer mucus discharge. “One of the most surprising things about this disease is that it was not considered a disease as such until the last ten or twelve years,” he wrote. It is striking that this disease was only in the upper classes. “I haven’t heard of any cases among poor people,” Bostock said.

Almost half a century later, a doctor from Manchester, Charles Blakely, who himself suffered from hay fever, breathed air with different types of pollen and made a perfectly correct conclusion: it is pollen, and not the sun or heat, causes this disease [88]. He also made a number of other important observations: thirty years ago, hay fever was less common, and even earlier was almost unknown; in the past, hay fever was a disease of the aristocracy, but now it also affected educated people; for some reason, the peasants who regularly inhaled pollen, never had this disease. “The people who are most affected by pollen belong to the class that accounts for the least cases of this disease, namely the peasants,” Blackley wrote.

Blakely offered two explanations: either education makes a person vulnerable to hay fever, or the constant contact of farmers with pollen protects them from this disease. He suggested that if the second explanation was correct, then continued urbanization would lead to a significant increase in the prevalence of hay fever. How far-sighted he was!

By that time, time and money had already become part of this story [89]. It is because of the constant Association of hay fever with the level of wealth that this disease has become fashionable, as previously gout (the disease of the well-fed rich) and consumption (the disease of sensitive romantics). To the London physician Morrell Mackenzie, the English tendency to hay fever was proof of their superiority to other Nations. He considered the higher prevalence of the disease among the upper classes as proof of this superiority. “One of the most exceptional features of this disease is that it almost always affects only people with a certain level of education, and mostly those who occupy a fairly high social position,” he wrote.

But let’s not hurry. In 1911, the American physician William Hurd, who also had a leaky nose, declared that hay fever was now “a distinctive feature of the Americans… the British are no longer our competitors.”

“In no other country does hay fever travel to certain regions so often that the railroads serving these regions might well submit hay fever to the interstate Commerce Commission as a basis for their partial capitalization,” boasted Hurd. — In no other country does hay fever create so many jobs and bring such prosperity. It deserves to be one of the points of the national political program of the Republican party.”

In this statement, Hurd is talking about a business that has become very profitable in the United States — about health centers for members of the privileged class, who spent the hay fever season there. Such centers appeared in the white mountains in new Hampshire, in the Adirondack mountains in new York, and on the shores of the Great lakes. Apparently, everyone who represented something was insistently demanding acceptance into the circle of this sneezing elite.

“This disease is only found in people with outstanding intellectual abilities and the greatest strength of spirit,” said one of the clients of such health centers, George Scott. — If it weren’t for hay fever, I could have lived my entire life among those who are not classified as the intellectual giants of America.” Some believed that the disease represented everything that had gone wrong in a newly mechanized civilization. “Modern civilization itself has created a special combination of causal factors that have such a devastating effect on mental stability,” wrote the American doctor George Byrd, who also suffered from hay fever.

The apparent absence of hay fever among African-Americans was declared in the United States another proof of the superiority of the white race. The absence of this disease in Africa and Asia testified to the high position of the English colonizers. (Except they got the disease abroad.) And the fact that hay fever did not suffer in Scandinavia, France, Italy, Spain and Russia, indicated the superiority of the British even over the Europeans. “The fact that the natives and practically all members of the working class in civilized countries are freed from hay fever, along with other considerations, suggests that we should perceive hay fever as one of the consequences of a higher civilization,” wrote one doctor working in great Britain.

Of course, the basis of all these observations was not quite strict scientific method. And given the status attributed to hay fever, epidemiological data on this disease must be taken with a certain degree of skepticism. Nevertheless, the described pattern is very specific. Great Britain and the United States of America (the two countries where this curious disease was first discovered) are also among the first countries to begin the process of urbanization and industrialization. These countries were the first to experience the tragedy of the modern city, as well as the first to implement major sanitary reforms. In these countries, the first groups of people (a class of new traders and a class of professional specialists) appeared, who had both the desire and the ability to maintain cleanliness. On the other hand, Scandinavia, Italy, Spain, Russia, and to a lesser extent France, until recently, remained mainly agricultural countries with mainly rural populations.

In these populations, an event occurred that has no biological precedent: the elimination of certain microbes in the human body-perhaps for the first time in the history of human evolution.

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