Friday, April 25, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

How did ‘Little House’ sister really become blind?

CHICAGO — Any fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s beloved “Little House” books knows how the author’s sister Mary went blind: scarlet fever. But turns out that probably wasn’t the cause, medical experts say, upending one of the more dramatic elements in the classic stories.

An analysis of historical documents, biographical records and other material suggests another disease that causes swelling in the brain and upper spinal cord was the most likely culprit. It was known as “brain fever” in the late 1800s, the setting for the mostly true stories about Wilder’s pioneer family.

Scarlet fever was rampant and feared at the time, and it was likely often misdiagnosed for other illnesses that cause fever, the researchers said.

Wilder’s letters and unpublished memoir, on which the books are based, suggest she was uncertain about her sister’s illness, referring to it as “some sort of spinal sickness.” And a registry at an Iowa college for blind students that Mary attended says “brain fever” caused her to lose her eyesight, the researchers said.

They found no mention that Mary Ingalls had a red rash that is a hallmark sign of scarlet fever. It’s caused by the same germ that causes strep throat. It is easily treated with antibiotics that didn’t exist in the 1800s and is no longer considered a serious illness.

Doctors used to think blindness was among the complications, but that’s probably because they misdiagnosed scarlet fever in children who had other diseases, said study author Dr. Beth Tarini, a pediatrician and researcher at the University of Michigan.

Her study appears online Monday in Pediatrics.

It’s the latest study offering a modern diagnosis for a historical figure. Others subjected to revisionists’ microscope include Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin, composer Wolfgang Mozart and Abraham Lincoln.

Tarini said as a girl she was a fan of the “Little House” books and wanted to research Mary Ingalls’ blindness ever since scarlet fever came up during a medical school discussion.

“I raised my hand and said, ‘Scarlet fever can make you go blind, right?’” The instructor hesitated and responded, “I don’t think so.”

The disease that Mary Ingalls probably had is called meningoencephalitis. It can be caused by bacteria and treated with antibiotics, but Tarini said it’s likely she had the viral kind, which can be spread by mosquitoes and ticks.

The viral disease is fairly common today, particularly in summer months and can cause fever, headaches and sometimes seizures, said Dr. Buddy Creech, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University. Affected children typically require hospitalization but lasting effects are uncommon, Creech said.

Still, blindness can occur if the disease affects the optic nerve, and it’s entirely possible that Mary Ingalls had the condition, he said.

Historian William Anderson, author of Laura Ingalls Wilder biography, said various theories about Mary Ingalls’ blindness have been floating around for years. The new analysis provides credible evidence that it was caused by something other than scarlet fever, but it does nothing to discredit the books, Anderson said.

“From a literary standpoint, scarlet fever just seemed to be the most convenient way” to describe Mary’s illness, he said.

___

Online:

Pediatrics: http://www.pediatrics.org

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

.

Solano News

Concert master gets solo during Solano Symphony shows

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B1

 
So, where is that editor?

By Susan Winlow | From Page: B1

Suisun break ground on Walmart

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
District attorney candidates field questions at forum

By Jess Sullivan | From Page: A1 | Gallery

Open Studios May 3-4 in Benicia

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
‘Tonight Show’ comic stops in Vallejo

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B1

The spy who went to Armijo High

By Tony Wade | From Page: A2

 
Cheating Daylight kicks off tour in hometown

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B2

Little Anthony joins line up at county fair

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B2

 
Notable Benicia homes, colorful gardens open for tour

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B2

Daily Republic seeks good news for column

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: A3, 5 Comments

 
Sutter’s thank-you to children gets top marks

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A3 | Gallery

Suisun Marsh plan gets federal signoff

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A3

 
Vacaville police promote 3 from within

By Susan Winlow | From Page: A3 | Gallery

Machete-attack case goes to jury

By Jess Sullivan | From Page: A3

 
Tickets on sale for Denim and Diamonds fundraiser

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A4

 
Spring book sales at Vacaville, Vallejo libraries

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A4

Children battle in Suisun – using book knowledge

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4 | Gallery

 
Library fundraiser ‘BrewHaha’ on tap May 3

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A5

 
Brown reappoints Vacaville man to post

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A5

Community meeting on Fairfield crime set

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

 
Fairfield police log: April 23, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

 
Suisun City police log: April 23, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

Weather for Friday, April 25, 2014

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B12

 
.

US / World

Chicago doctor among those killed in Afghanistan

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
Water picture improves for some California towns

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

Study links California drought to global warming

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
Gunman kills 3 Americans at Kabul hospital

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

Bill calls for enhanced lessons on Obama election

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
100-year-old California woman gets diploma

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

California bill attacks growing corporate wage gap

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
NRA seeks universal gun law at national meeting

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6 | Gallery

Senate report criticizes former DHS watchdog

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Measles off to a fast start, as cases trend up

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

Nevada rancher defends remarks, loses supporters

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Management, safety cited for radiation release

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

Gaga over gorillas? 2 babies arrive at Bronx Zoo

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7 | Gallery

 
Senate’s newest class speaks out on foreign policy

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

Tiny Pacific nation sues 9 nuclear-armed powers

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Everest climbing season in disarray after deaths

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

Vatican: Pope’s private calls don’t reflect policy

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
Families of ferry’s lost confront SKorea officials

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

Israel halts peace talks with Palestinians

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10 | Gallery

 
Ukraine moves against insurgents in the east

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10 | Gallery

Costa Rica is demanding US explain ‘Cuban Twitter’

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
FDA eases into regulating e-cigarettes

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

FDA OKs first-ever DNA alternative to Pap smear

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

 
Postal workers’ unions protest Staples program

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

11 kids, driver hurt in Calif. school bus crash

By The Associated Press | From Page: A12

 
.

Opinion

 
Editorial cartoons for April 25, 2014

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A11

Some diet news is tough to digest

By Bud Stevenson | From Page: A11

 
Has the militia movement re-emerged in American life?

By Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis | From Page: A11

 
Easily swayed voters on both sides

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A11, 3 Comments

.

Living

Community Calendar: April 25, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

 
Today in History for April 25, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

Horoscopes for April 25, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: A9

 
How can I renew my friendship with Ellie without looking desperate?

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: A9

.

Entertainment

Week in preview April 25-May 1, 2014

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B1

 
Review: Walker memorable in gritty ‘Mansions’

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
Review: ‘Quiet Ones’ is more creaky than creepy

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

Entertainment calendar April 25, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: B4

 
TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

.

Sports

Donaldson, Kazmir lead A’s past Astros 10-1

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7 | Gallery

 
Solano sweeps all-BVC softball postseason awards

By Paul Farmer | From Page: B7

Fishing: Bass Reapers to hold Berryessa tournament

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B7

 
Prep girls soccer: Vanden slips past AC for 3-2 SCAC victory

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B7

 
Prep baseball: Vanden’s LaGrand tosses shutout at Bethel

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B7

 
Clippers beat Warriors 98-96 for 2-1 series lead

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7 | Gallery

LA Kings avoid elimination in 6-3 win over Sharks

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7 | Gallery

 
JC baseball: Solano’s late rally falls short in 6-5 loss to Marin

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B7 | Gallery

Fairfield Expos announce schedule for 2014 season

By Paul Farmer | From Page: B8

 
Silver: Premature to say union will opt out of CBA

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

Cal Poly baseball team is toast of the West Coast

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
Michael Phelps loses to Lochte in comeback meet

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8 | Gallery

Northwestern players to cast historic union vote

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

 
Pineda not only pitcher in majors to try pine tar

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

Pineda banned 10 games for pine tar, won’t appeal

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9 | Gallery

 
.

Business

4Runner keeps rugged charm

By Ann M. Job | From Page: C1

 
Audi’s RS 7 is answer to Porsche, Mercedes

By Ann M. Job | From Page: C2

US proposes pay-for-priority Internet standards

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

 
Google, Apple settle high-tech workers’ lawsuit

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

Amazon launches grocery service for Prime members

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

 
Wireless industry makes anti-theft commitment

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

.

Obituaries

Robert James Carty Sr.

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Jean Sophia Ruckdeschel

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

Judith Catherine Brooks

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
.

Comics

Pickles

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Rose is Rose

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Peanuts

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Blondie

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Baby Blues

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Garfield

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Beetle Bailey

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Sally Forth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Zits

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
For Better or Worse

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

B.C.

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Wizard Of Id

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Get Fuzzy

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Baldo

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Dilbert

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Frank and Ernest

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Cryptoquote

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

 
Crossword

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

Word Sleuth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

 
Bridge

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

Sudoku

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9