The information I found was not what I expected. Gran's sister, Agnes, died at 15 months. She was the stronger of the two babies, having been born first at 10pm on the 8th of May 1904.
Gran was bon at 10..30pm and was thought of as the weak one. They both contracted whooping cough when they were just about one year old.
The disease is characterized by a cough, fever, sneezing, and runny nose. After several weeks the cough changes character, with paroxysms of coughing followed by an inspiratory "whooping" sound. Coughing fits may be followed by vomiting, which in severe cases leads to malnutrition. Other complications of the disease include pneumonia, encephalitis, and secondary bacterial infection. The disease is spread by contact with airborne discharges from the mucous membranes of infected people. Treatment of the disease with antibiotics results in the person becoming less infectious but probably does not significantly alter the outcome of the disease.
Of course, there were no antibiotics back then, so other treatments had to be found. Agnes also contracted measles, which would further weaken her little body. Babies less than one year old usually have the most severe forms of the disease and it is in this age group that deaths most often occur. They may have convulsions at the end of the coughing spasm and in rare cases may actually have a brain haemorrhage (bleed) which may cause temporary or permanent brain damage.
In the nineteenth century whooping cough was most definitely a killer disease. “Deaths from whooping cough remained at around 10 000 a year from 1847 until the 1900s and then declined steeply as the health and care of children improved and had reached less than 400 a year by 1950. Immunisation started in the 1950s, deaths continued to fill and notifications fell sharply.”
My mother then told me that her grandpa Alexander Gibson used leeches on the babies to get rid of the 'bad blood'. He kept the leeches in a jar to treat the children. I do have a vague memory of my gran telling me about leeches a long time ago.
Seemingly my great grandpa put the leeches on the babies' necks. How unthinkable this all seems today but before modern medicine and the NHS, such practices were common.
Toward the beginning of the 19th century, a “leech mania” swept through Europe and America, as leeching became incorporated into the practice of bloodletting. Enormous quantities of leeches were used for bleeding—as many as 5 to 6 million being used annually to draw more than 300,000 litres of blood in Parisian hospitals alone. In some cases patients lost as much as 80 percent of their blood in a single leeching. Bloodletting procedures, including leeching, became the most common medical procedure throughout the early modern period. By the early 19th century, many patients regularly submitted to various bloodletting practices as a means of preventing or treating infection and disease.
By the 1870s, bloodletting was so popular among patients that, although medical use of the practice was declining, many patients had to be convinced not to be bled when they fell ill.
Sadly, it is now known that leeches as a treatment for illness does not work, it simply makes the patient anaemic and less able to fight infection.
Agnes died from whooping cough and measles on the twentieth of August 1905, after trying to fight the infection for thirteen weeks. She was only fifteen months old weeks. My gran survived and lived into her nineties.