Quarantine Rule Breakers in 17th-Century Italy

People broke public health laws during the 17th-century plague in Italy, but there were clergymen who intervened. Introduction Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, conflicts between religious freedom and public health regulations have been playing out in courts around the world. Churches from California to Maine have flouted public health orders by convening in[…]

How the Polio Vaccine Went from the Lab to the Public

The Cutter Incident was a tragic error showed how complicated it can be to distribute vaccines on a mass scale. Introduction In 1955, after a field trial involving 1.8 million Americans, the world’s first successful polio vaccine was declared “safe, effective, and potent.” It was arguably the most significant biomedical advance of the past century.[…]

How Pandemics Triggered Societal Shifts in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds

Societies and cultures that seem ossified and entrenched were suddenly open to conquest, innovation, and social change. Introduction Before March of this year, few probably thought disease could be a significant driver of human history. Not so anymore. People are beginning to understand that the little changes COVID-19 has already ushered in or accelerated –[…]

‘The Blue Sickness’: Impacts and Consequences of the Medieval ‘Black Death’

Medieval people called it “the blue sickness”, “La pest” (the pestilence), and “the Great Mortality”. NOTE: Hover mouse over highlighted text for further information. Introduction Beginning in 1347 and continuing for a full five years, a devastating plague swept Europe, leaving in its wake more than twenty million people dead. This epidemic now known as[…]

Comets, Omens, and Fear: Understanding Plague in the Middle Ages

In medieval times natural phenomena, such as comets and eclipses, were regarded as portents of natural disasters, including plagues. Introduction On August 30 2019, a comet from outside our solar system was observed by amateur astronomer Gennady Borisov at the MARGO observatory in Crimea. This was only the second time an interstellar comet had ever[…]

The Concept of Quarantine in History

From ancient times different populations have adopted varying strategies to prevent and contain disease. By Dr. Gian Franco Gensini, Dr. Magdi H. Yacoub, and Dr. Andrea A. Conti Abstract The concept of ‘quarantine’ is embedded in health practices, attracting heightened interest during episodes of epidemics. The term is strictly related to plague and dates back[…]

A 19th-Century Artist’s Effort to Grapple with Representing Tuberculosis

For the grieving painter who lose his wife to the disease, art functioned as a kind of medicine. Introduction Like everyone else, artists have been challenged by new conditions and routines since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many have had to adjust what they make as well as how and where they work, coming[…]

Examining the Ways in Which America Is Putting Up a Fight against the Coronavirus

Humankind’s battle against an invisible and what could be often termed as an invincible force of nature, is still a persistent one. People around the globe are putting up a brave fight in their own capacities and trying hard to combat a pandemic of this epic scale, something that has never been dealt with or[…]

Fourteenth-Century England, Medical Ethics, and the Plague

The plague remained endemic for 300 years, returning every so often to cull the population. Introduction In the 20th and 21st centuries, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and the threat of bioterror attacks have raised questions about the role of the physician in response to epidemics. Modern medical ethics, with its[…]

Charms, Magical and Religious Remedies in the Medieval World

Medieval people firmly believed in God and occult powers. By Véronique SoreauPhD Student in English and Anglo-Saxon Languages and LiteratureCentre d’Etudes Supérieures de Civilisation MédiévaleUniversité de Poitiers Introduction Charms are incantations or magic spells, chanted, recited, or written. Used to cure diseases, they can also be a type of medical recipe.[1]  Such recipes were often[…]

Early Concepts of Disease

For many centuries explanations for disease were based not on science, but on religion, superstition, and myth. Hunter-Gatherers Ten thousand years ago humans were hunter-gatherers. They had a short life span, but not because of epidemics; their primary problem was just finding enough food to eat. They lived and traveled in small groups and hunted[…]

Ancient Diseases: Traces of Suffering in the Bones

Diseases have often influenced historical events, but they are neglected in the documentation of these events. Human remains used to be considered a nuisance in archaeological excavations. Today they are considered a valuable source of information to understand the ways of life of prehistoric populations and their conditions. A short distance from what is now[…]

Early Uses of Diphtheria Antitoxin in the United States

The transition to use of diphtheria antitoxin to treat ill humans happened quickly. It’s hard to identify exactly when it was first used. Introduction One of the fascinating things about the history of vaccinology is how quickly late 19th century researchers moved from identifying microbes as the cause of certain diseases to developing ways to[…]

Cholera Outbreaks and Pandemics since 1817

Between 1816 and 1923, the first six cholera pandemics occurred consecutively and continuously over time. Introduction Seven cholera pandemics have occurred in the past 200 years, with the first pandemic originating in India in 1817. Additionally, there have been many documented cholera outbreaks, such as a 1991–1994 outbreak in South America and, more recently, the[…]

Philadelphia Under Siege: The Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793

20,000 people, including Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and much of the federal government fled the city to escape the fever. By Samuel A. Gum The summer was the hottest in years. The humidity was hardly bearable. The muddy swamps of Philadelphia spawned round after round of mosquitoes which relentlessly assaulted their human blood meals. An[…]

Great Sorrows: The Deadly ‘Throat Distemper’, 1735-1736

When Massachusetts was hit by Diptheria and Scarlett Fever at the same time. In 1736, scarlet fever was present in Boston and neighboring towns, but while the scarlet fever epidemic was spreading out from Boston, the diphtheria epidemic was descending from the north, and in Essex county they traveled along the Old Bay Road at[…]

18th-Century Medicinal Balsams, Gums, and Resins from the Indies to Madrid

Transporting plants and their by-products by long transoceanic voyages was a complex operation during the 18th century. By Dr. Marcelo Fabián FigueroaProfessor of HistoryUniversidad Nacional de Tucumán-UNTInstituto Superior de Estudios SocialesConsejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas-ISES/CONICET Introduction This paper studies the administrative, legal and scientific instructions issued by the Spanish Ministry of the Indies[…]

Medieval Conspiracy Theories: The Lepers’ Plot of 1321

The hysteria quickly spread and local authorities used it as an excuse to attack both Jewish and leper communities. Introduction The 1321 lepers’ plot was an alleged conspiracy of French lepers to spread their disease by contaminating water supplies, including well water, with their powders and poisons.[1] According to the American historian Solomon Grayzel, lepers[…]

St. Anthony’s Fire: Ergotism and Its Treatment in the Medieval World

It is less well-known than the Black Death plague but was constantly present throughout the Middle Ages. Introduction St. Anthony’s Fire (SAF) is an illness brought on by the ingestion of fungus-contaminated rye grain causing ergot poisoning (ergotism). The disease’s common name derives from the medieval Benedictine monks dedicated to that saint who offered treatment to[…]

Medieval Cures for Lung Disease, Gout, and Vertigo

Old English continued to be used a century after William’s victory at the Battle of Hastings. Even after the Normans conquered England, Old English (the oldest form of the vernacular) continued to be spoken throughout the country. It continued to be used in books produced in  monasteries there for at least a century after William[…]

‘Slackers’: The 1918 Influenza Pandemic and Face Masks

As the US battled the 1918 influenza pandemic, some communities staged contentious battles against wearing masks. Sound familiar? We have all seen the alarming headlines: Coronavirus cases are surging in 40 states, with new cases and hospitalization rates climbing at an alarming rate. Health officials have warned that the U.S. must act quickly to halt[…]

Historical Lessons from the 1918 Influenza Pandemic in Denver

How politicians and the public in Denver, Colorado, handled the 1918 flu epidemic is relevant to today. Introduction Coronavirus infection rates continue to rise, with the number of new cases climbing in dozens of states and the U.S. reporting record numbers of cases on individual days. Hospitalization across the U.S. has dramatically jumped; some cities[…]

Hippocrates on Respiratory Tract Infections in Ancient Greece

Hippocrates used the “four humours” theory to explain the origins of these infections but understood the environment’s effect. By Dr. Gregory RsoucalasProfessor of the History of MedicineUniversity of Thessaly By Dr. Sgantzos MarkosAssociate Professor of the History of MedicineUniversity of Thessaly Originally published by General Medicine 4:5 (2016), free and open access, republished for educational,[…]

An Analysis of Poe’s ‘Masque of the Red Death’

Poe’s story follows many traditions of Gothic fiction and is often analyzed as an allegory about the inevitability of death. Introduction “The Masque of the Red Death” (originally published as “The Mask of the Red Death: A Fantasy”) is a short story by American writer Edgar Allan Poe, first published in 1842. The story follows[…]

Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Masque of the Red Death’

A full reading of Poe’s work. By Edgar Allan Poe (1842) The Masque of the Red Death is a short story by American writer Edgar Allan Poe, first published in 1842. The work follows in full (public domain): The red death had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so[…]

Medieval Jewish Medicine

Jewish practitioners participated in the exchange of knowledge between Christian and Muslim writers and practitioners. The Book of Remedies, the earliest medical text written in Hebrew, to Asaph the Jew, dates to the seventh or eighth century.[1] The text comprises four parts; a story of the transmission of medicine from God to mankind, a medical[…]

Texts, Tools, and Methods in Ancient Egyptian Medical Practice

Ancient Egyptians valued hygiene and proper medical care. Introduction Medical practice in ancient Egypt was so advanced that many of their observations, policies, and commonplace procedures would not be surpassed in the west for centuries after the fall of Rome and their practices would inform both Greek and Roman medicine. They understood that disease could[…]

Ancient Egyptian Medicine

The Greek historian Herodotus visited Egypt around 440 BCE and wrote extensively of his observations of their medicinal practice. Introduction The medicine of the ancient Egyptians is some of the oldest documented. From the beginnings of the civilization in the late fourth millennium BC until the Persian invasion of 525 BC, Egyptian medical practice went[…]

India’s Goddesses of Contagion: Protection, Unless You Make them Mad!

Goddesses have traditionally protected against sickness and cured the ill, according to Hindu belief. But there’s a catch. Introduction Hindus in India have had a helping hand – several in fact – when it comes to fighting deadly contagions like COVID-19: multi-armed goddesses co-opted to help contain and kill pestilence. Collectively known as “Amman,” or[…]