Friday, July 10, 2015

The Discovery of the Germ by John Waller *****

The Discovery of the Germ by John Waller chronicles a period of extraordinary progress in medical science ... in the 19th century.
Until around the 1850s, most doctors had always assumed that each disease could be caused in a variety of different ways; people succumbed to exactly the same illnesses but for entirely different reasons. 
By 1888,
The germs responsible for anthrax, cholera, tuberculosis, leprosy, diphtheria and gangrene had ... been found. ... every year between 1879 and 1899, scientists unlocked the secret of another important infectious disease.
Any social/scientific change occurs for many reasons. One interesting reason for these remarkable changes in medical science was the French Revolution. Prior to the French Revolution. The power in society belonged to the aristocracy. Doctors were hired help who tended to see few patients and were not allowed to examine them. Women died with doctors never touching them or examining what might be happening beneath their petticoats.

Of the rest of society, everyone assumed their diseases were completely different from the aristocrats and caused by their low station, low morals, and low education. None of the power players saw any reason to change.

With the French Revolution. There was not only an extreme shortage of aristocrates, but there were also large public hospitals. Doctors now saw lots of patients, and these patients could be examined. The was the beginning of modern medical science, and one of the illuminating stories of the fantastic progress of medicine in the 19th century.

Another early sign of progress involved women dying in childbirth. This oft-recounted struggled involved many doctors across Europe (this is a history of science in Europe) campaigning for more sanitary conditions during childbirth. The progress was slow, but the story is one of heroics and drama.

This small book tells the fascinating story of how theories that had been in place essentially unchanged since Hippocrates were suddenly replaced, and doctors could cure and prevent diseases for the first time.

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