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Contagion! Epidemics in Ophthalmic History
Plague, pestilence and pandemic are words that have struck fear for centuries. Even in ancient times diseases were believed to be somehow contagious. Before the development of modern germ theory in the late 1800s, the causes and cures of disease were largely a mystery.
Lacking scientific evidence, people of good education, respectable morals and high economic class were considered to be naturally resistant to disease. Epidemics were therefore blamed on the less desirable elements of society- the poor, non-whites or minority religions. Environmental factors also became suspect. Bad air, or miasma, was held responsible for such epidemics as The Black Death and cholera. Amongst colonists and immigrants it was also common to discuss "seasoning"- the belief that a newcomer needed to acclimate before becoming immune to local diseases.
How to fight disease was as mysterious as its cause. In ancient times, Hippocrates (c. 460 – 370 BCE) developed a theory regarding a person's constitution based on four humors: black bile, yellow bile, blood and phlegm. When your humors were in balance, your health was fine, when unbalanced you became sick. Diseases were believed to affect the entire body, not just one organ, so physicians employed methods to balance the humors that, today, we know had little or no effect. Through the 18th century bloodletting, emetics and enemas were often employed to balance the body's humors.
- Viruses and Bacteria
- The First Vaccine: Small Pox
- Connecting the Disease with its Cause
- Anti-microbial Agents
- Yellow Fever