Death By A Fly Bite

115 Years Ago, A Boy Mysteriously Dies and a Fly is to Blame

In 1896 you could die at a moment’s notice. There were no antibiotics.  Doctors and scientists were slowly discovering how diseases were spread. Then, as now, the medical and scientific community gets stymied.

For instance, imagine  hundreds of people sharing a glass or cup to drink from a public place where healthy and sick people alike could spread their germs. Yes, people actually did that. And in the U.S. thousands every year got sick or died from that practice. The impetus to invent a disposable cup – to stop spreading disease via communal drinking apparatus led to the Dixie Cup which came on the market in 1907.

But in 1896, before West Nile Virus or Ebola Virus was discovered, something strange and horrible occurred to a a fourteen year old Contra Costa, CA boy named Myron Mills that defies explanation.

In early October Myron was bitten on the chin by what he described as a fly that was blue and slightly larger than a house fly. Soon after he was bitten he told his mother that he had a burning sensation around his throat.  But the pain subsided quickly. Myron thought he was fine.

Three days later Myron’s chin began to swell. A doctor was called and he was unable to help him and Myron was taken to the hospital. Eventually an operation was performed to ease his suffering and it was discovered that the jaw bones had become diseased. The flesh on the right side of his face was disintegrating and was filled with thousands of minute pits. The left side of his face and flesh behind the ear started showing rapid metamorphosis. On Thursday, October 22 he collapsed (went into a coma) and by Saturday, October 24 he was dead. The official cause of death was listed as blood poisoning.

After Myron’s death the physicians incubated his diseased flesh for a bacteriological examination to delve further into the case. The doctors were also perplexed that in the first few days after the bite the boy suffered no pain.

In the newspaper account, The San Francisco Call noted that in a week, after the incubation of the bacilli, physicians would have a more thorough answer as to what exactly killed Myron. If they discovered what happened, it was never printed and I have been unable to find any related story about Myron’s death.

Below is the story as it originally appeared in the October 29, 1896 San Francisco Call.

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