Sunday, January 9, 2011

Joseph Bissonnette: Tuberculosis, a occupational hazard for a butcher in the 19th Century?

Joseph Bissonnette, also spelled as Bisnett, Bisnette
Joseph Bissonnette was the first husband of Celenie Beauvais, and the father of at least seven children: Julia, Joseph, Alfred, Moises, Henriette, Elizabeth and Mamie. We haven't found a birth or baptism record in Cohoes - but we do have a death certificate that states he was fifty years old when he died (born approximately 1849) of hemorrhage and tuberculosis of the lung in May 1899.  His death certificate states he was born in Canada.

Death Certificate - Click on Image to enlarge and read it

We can find his life in flashes every ten years starting in the 1850 Federal Census of Cohoes, NY.  He was only one year old.....

1850 United States Census - Cohoes, NY
....and living with his father, Moise Bisnett 23 years old,  mother Julia 21 years old (granddaughter of  Antoine Kaigle/Gockell, the  Hessian soldier), and older sister Julia who is 6 years old. The document also states his parents and older sister were born in Canada but Joseph was born in New York.
In 1860 he is ten years old and listed with his parents in the Federal census of Cohoes.  Father, Moises Bissonnette is 34 years old and working as a axe maker. His mother Julia is alive and his older sister, Julia, 16 years old,  is working in a factory. The census states Joseph was born in New York.

1860 United States Census - Cohoes, NY

The image below may be difficult to read (click on the image to enlarge it a bit).  In 1870, he is married (to Celenie) and living in Brandon, Vermont, farming. Their first child, Julia, is one year old.



1870 Census, Brandon Vermont

How long did he and Celenie remain in Brandon, Vermont?  We can't know for certain but in 1880, the family is back in Cohoes, now with five children. For all five children, the census taker wrote down that the father, Joseph Bissonnette, was born in New York. He earns his living as a butcher.

1880 Census, Cohoes, NY

The 1881 Troy -Cohoes City Directory list his occupation as a butcher. His house is on Wilmer Avenue opposite Chestnut St. which is now land the Cohoes Middle School occupies.

Eight years later, Joseph died of tuberculosis, often called "consumption" in the 19th century.  This is an infectious disease usually caused by a strain of  mycobacterium - usually Mycobacterium tuberculosis in humans.

However there is a strain of  mycobacterium found in cattle called Mycobacterium bovis which can "jump" to humans causing tuberculosis as illustrated below:


There is an article published in German in 1958 entitled, Pulmonary tuberculosis as an occupational disease in butchers & persons employed in agriculture.  Although, we will never know exactly, it is interesting to speculate if Joseph Bissonnette died as a result of an occupational disease as a result of working as a butcher in a time before US Department of Agriculture inspections and pasteurization.

A Case report of a fifty two year old man in Australia, illustrates the possibility of Joseph Bissonnette contracting Mycobacterium bovis....


Case report

A 52-year-old male presented in February 2009 with a 1 month history of a non-productive cough, vague abdominal discomfort, night sweats and unexplained weight loss. He was born in Italy and migrated to Australia in 1998. He had worked as a butcher for the past 35 years. He denied working with diseased animals in Australia, but recalled slaughtering animals suspected to have bovine tuberculosis several decades ago. This process was often accompanied by dissection of the diseased lungs. He also drank unpasteurised dairy products whilst in Italy. He had a 30 year history of cigarette smoking, had no co-morbidities and took no medications. He had received the bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccination during childhood. His father had previously been treated for tuberculosis.
Physical examination revealed no significant abnormalities. A chest X-ray showed a well defined density in the left upper zone. A CT scan demonstrated several left upper lobe nodular densities up to 4 cm in diameter with some areas of cavitation (Figure 1). Bronchoalveolar lavage showed no acid fast bacilli on microscopy, but cultured slow-growing, cream coloured, cauliflower like colonies confirmed to be M. bovis by genotypic methods. The patient was successfully treated with a 9 month course of isoniazid, rifampicin and ethambutol. Contact tracing among close family members and work colleagues revealed no evidence of secondary cases.

CT scan of patient , a butcher for 35 years, with Mycobacterium bovis infected tuberculosis



Celenie Beauvais Bissonnette was widowed on May 1st, 1899. At the time of his death, Joseph and Celenie were living in 35 White Street, Cohoes, NY.  They were married approximately 31 years.



Here's the complete sequence of stories about illnesses and disease in our families...







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