Finally the holidays are over!!!!! After all the rigmarole of the last few months, I'm ready to kick back and find my old groove again. Oh, Dear Reader, how I've missed you...... what shall we talk about today? Well, how are you? Good. Good. And the living family? Oh really? Did you get it on video? Adorable. How's the research going? You did? That sounds fantastic..... what? What's that? Sick? Do you think it was the Flu? We had a terrible outbreak of norovirus in Chicago..... just about everyone I know has been down and out for a few days in the last couple of weeks. Hm? Oh, no. There's no treatment except to rest. Apparently really bad to get that one. Makes you think about how our ancestors handled diseases, doesn't it?
History's Big Epidemics
I got bored typing out a list of epidemics, so here's the wikipedia article that lists the biggest ones. Visually this is the best way to see how disease has circled the globe and travelled with colonists and explorers since the beginning of time. I'm going to present here a clear timeline of first discoveries of some diseases (they may have been around longer, but undocumented) and when the first treatment or vaccine was available for them. It's important to consider epidemics in our genealogy research because it can hold clues as to why a family member is missing or why an entire family group died suddenly. I can point to a cholera outbreak in recent local history that wiped out several family members when my grandparents were young. And there is probably no family that wasn't touched by the 1918 Influenza pandemic.
4000 BC- Skeletal remains of humans from this era have signs of TB
1930 BC- First written account of Rabies
900 BC- Smallpox and Measles differentiated
430 BC- First account of possible Typhoid fever epidemic
ca. 400 BC- Pneumonia described by Hippocrates
541 AD- First account of Bubonic Plague (would ravage the world and kill 1/3 of the European population during the Late Middle Ages)
1489 AD- First reliable account of Typhus
1553 AD- while Scarlet fever may have been around as early as 400 BC, this is the first clear account of the disease
1580 AD- While earlier accounts of Influenza are available, this is the first clear outbreak
ca. 1600-1700 AD- no clear initial Chicken pox description. Several books attribute different doctors with the discovery.
1613 AD- Diphtheria breaks out in Spain
1647 AD- First clear outbreak of Yellow Fever
1740 AD- Rubella first described medically
1764- First description of Lyme disease (some claim this disease is known in prehistoric men, others that it's an engineered disease in it's latest form from the 1960's- I don't know).
1768 AD- Meningitis is described (as "dropsy") although it may have been known as early as 400 BC
1789 AD- This is the first written account of Polio, though there are drawings in Egyptian Hieroglyphs that suggests withered limbs on otherwise healthy individuals
1796 AD- First vaccine, Smallpox
1817 AD- First Cholera pandemic
1876 AD- First account of Anthrax
1879 AD- Vaccine for Cholera
1885 AD- Vaccine for Rabies
1896 AD- Vaccine for Typhoid fever
1897 AD- Vaccine for Bubonic Plague
1921 AD- Vaccines for Diphtheria, Tuberculosis
1924 AD- Vaccine for Scarlet fever
1926 AD- Vaccine for Whooping cough
1932 AD- Vaccine for Yellow fever
1934 AD- Mumps "discovered"
1937 AD- Vaccine for Typhus
1945 AD- Vaccine for Influenza
1950s AD- HPV discovered
1952 AD- Vaccine for Polio
1954 AD- Vaccine for Anthrax
1963 AD- Vaccine for Measles
1967 AD- Vaccine for Mumps
1970 AD- Vaccine for Rubella
1972 AD- HPV linked to increased cancer risks
1974 AD- Vaccine for Chicken pox
1977 AD- Vaccine for Pneumonia
1978 AD- Vaccine for Meningitis
1998 AD- Vaccine for Lyme disease
2006 AD- Vaccine for HPV (Human papillomavirus linked to cervical cancer)
Note how fast vaccines became available once we knew how to do it! And how we've become much more quick in our responses to vaccinating diseases once "discovered". Now imagine not having these vaccines and having to suffer these diseases. Imagine all those relatives in your tree that could've been saved if science had been a little quicker on it's draw. Lucky us, no?
History's Big Medical Advancements
In the beginning of human history, it was seen as a taboo to touch a dead body. This probably arose from the number of diseases that would ferment in a corpse and transfer to a living person. Hey, even a kid knows that if a flame burns you when you touch it, you don't touch it again. So it would take little observation for our primitive ancestors to notice that dead body + close contact = sickness. While some would flaunt the common conceptions (and sometimes laws) to bring us anatomy books as early as 300 BC, there would be many misconceptions and assumptions in these first attempts. Because humans as a whole truly do change slowly and reluctantly, it would take centuries for real advances to be made in early medicine. Here's a brief outline of some important steps that changed the game in human mortality.
500 BC- Alcmaeon of Croton distinguishes veins from arteries
460 BC- Hippocrates, the father of medicine, is born. He will use observation and deductive reasoning to treat illnesses, but will still hold with the popular belief that four humors (blood, phlegm, yellow bile, black bile) must be kept in balance for good health.
1249 AD- Roger Bacon invents spectacles
1590 AD- The microscope is invented
1628 AD- William Harvey publishes his work "An Anatomical Study of Motion of the Heart and of the Blood in Animals" describing how the heart pumps blood through the body.
1656 AD- Sir Christopher Wren invents the first method for intravenous administration of medicine.
1747 AD- The common sailor ailment of scurvy is finally prevented with citrus fruit thanks to the work of James Lind. (It won't become a requirement to provide lemon juice on British naval ships until almost 1800).
1763 AD- First successful appendectomy.
1796 AD- Edward Jenner develops a smallpox vaccine (as well as the method of "vaccination" itself) by exposing people to cowpox.
1816 AD- The stethoscope is invented by Rene Laennec
1818 AD- The first successful human blood transfusion is performed by James Blundell
1842-1846 AD- While anesthetics had been discovered in Sir Humphrey Davy's work with nitrous oxide, it wasn't until now that surgeons and dentists applied his discoveries (and other's work with ether).
1853 AD- The invention of the syringe by Pravaz and Wood.
1867 AD- Joseph Lister publishes "Antiseptic Principle of the Practice of Surgery", revolutionising cleanliness in operating rooms. He pioneers cleaning of wounds and equipment to reduce infection.
1870 AD- Robert Koch and Louis Pasteur develop the germ theory of disease.
1887 AD- The first contact lenses.
1899 AD- Aspirin is invented by Felix Hoffman
1901 AD- The ABO blood typing system is made and safe human blood transfusions are finally possible.
1906 AD- Sir Frederick Gowland Hopkins "discovers" vitamins and suggests their necessity for healthy living.
1913 AD- Dr. Paul Dudley White pioneers the use of the electrocardiograph as a diagnostic tool.
1921 AD- The Band-Aid is invented.
1922 AD- Insulin is used to treat diabetes.
1928 AD- Penicillin is discovered by Sir Alexander Fleming.
1935 AD- The heart-lung machine that allows for circulation of blood to be performed outside the body (think open-heart surgery) is invented by Dr. John H. Gibbon Jr. It will be 1953 before it's successfully used on a human.
1942 AD- Ultrasound is developed by Dr. Karl Dussik
1954 AD- Gertrude Elion patents drug for fighting leukemia.
1967 AD- First human heart transplant.
1985 AD- First kidney dialysis machine.
It's hard to consider how far we've come in the field of medicine, but it wasn't that long ago (your parents or grandparents can attest) that people died from simple infections at the drop of a hat. I have a book called "The Works of Aristotle" that actually wasn't written by Aristotle. It's attributed to an anonymous author (and sometimes a William Salmon) in the 17th century. The book tries to cover many medical areas in anatomy, disease, treatments and the like. The theories and assertions are insane! My favorite is the chapter on pregnancy. It states that if a woman is thinking of anything but her husband, her child will show the signs of her wandering mind. Really. If she's thinking of the milkman, the kid will look like the milkman. If she's thinking of goats, the child will be born with hair that has a woolen quality. Seriously, did people really believe this??? Well, there was the belief at one time that germs travelled in clouds about the city. Supposedly, the city of New Orleans actually fired cannons into the air to break up the clouds. Even today, I was sent an email from a relative that claims that onions can absorb the germs in the air and keep me from getting sick (it claims a doctor proved this, but doesn't mention his name). It's crazy to think about the "facts" as they were then and as they are now.
I suppose it's no surprise that we're told every day that something will kill us only to hear it saves our life tomorrow.
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