Watch Out for Spring Fever!

Springtime is here, and with longer warmer days many of us have begun to suffer from what is referred to as “Spring Fever”. We all know what it feels like. We’ve all surely experienced it at one time or another, and many of us have done so on a yearly basis for decades.  Webster’s Dictionary defines Spring fever as “a lazy or restless feeling often associated with the onset of Spring”.  For many of us a “lazy or restless feeling” does not adequately describe the pain and torture of being cooped up inside an office with only windows to look out and see the beauty that Mother Nature has bestowed on us with brightly colored flowers and trees, and birds, and warm sunshine beaming down.  Oh, the pain! I want to be outside.  Nope! Sorry, seven more hours to go. 

Yes, Spring fever is a painful affliction, that is, modern-day Spring fever.  But, it is not a disabling or fatal disease as it was two or three centuries ago.  Spring fever, also known as “Spring Disease” in the 1700’s and 1800’s, was an illness that usually occurred in the Springtime and involved fatigue,  malaise, easy bruising, bone pain, hemorrhaging of the scalp and gums, and poor wound healing.  If left untreated, (which most cases were, until a miraculous cure was discovered) it lead to jaundice, seizures, neuropathy, and death.  Many thousands of people died from old fashioned Spring fever (Spring Disease) prior to the discovery of adequate treatment.  In the mid 1700’s a Scottish physician named Dr. James Lind discovered that the terrible illness formerly known as Spring Disease (but at that time was referred to as scurvy), could be successfully treated by the ingestion of oranges, lemons, and limes.  Ascorbic (citric) acid, or vitamin C, was yet to be discovered, and no one knew why these fruits worked to cure scurvy, only that the treatment was undeniably curative.  The illness “land scurvy” usually occurred in the Spring of the year, and more commonly in urban areas, which were largely void of fruits and vegetables (and especially citrus fruits) during the winter. The more agricultural areas of the world had better access to fruits and vegetables that were stockpiled during warm months to be consumed during the winter. Since transportation of food and food storage were more of a problem for urban dwellers in the 1700’s and 1800’s, these people were at much higher risk for developing land scurvy as their vitamin C levels became depleted during the winter months with no available fruits and vegetable for consumption.  By Springtime, they became ill with the disease.  “Sea scurvy” on the other hand, occurred throughout the year, and was thought to be a different illness than land scurvy.  Sailors made long voyages encompassing months of time at sea during this era.  Their diets on board ship rarely included fruits and vegetables, and thus, after many months at sea with vitamin C deficient diets, they developed sea scurvy.  Many thousands of sailors died from this disease before Dr. Lind’s discovery.  Dr. Lind himself had served in the Royal British Navy and had witnessed the suffering and deaths of countless sailors.  His discovery led to British ships being stocked with limes for ingestion by the sailors to prevent scurvy.  As a result, British sailors were eventually referred to as “Limeys”.  Land scurvy and sea scurvy were ultimately found to be the same disease, although the exact cause of the disease would remain a mystery until 1932 when ascorbic acid (vitamin C) was discovered by scientists in the U. S. and Hungary simultaneously. However, by the time the disease scurvy was adequately described and the exact cause was elucidated, Dr. Lind’s discovery of a cure nearly 200 years prior was a well accepted and practiced medical miracle.