Diseases In 19th Century America Essay

994 words - 4 pages

The average American was susceptible to many infectious diseases during the 1800's. Because the spread of disease and pathology itself were not adequately understood until the late 1800's(major epidemics continued to occur into the 1900's, however), and the practice of medicine was relatively primitive, the average life expectancy was very low. Many epidemics occurred in the new and thriving industrial centers of America, where rapid urbanization had not provided for adequate sanitation or living conditions for the burgeoning middle class. Major epidemics were caused by such diseases as yellow fever, cholera, tuberculosis (TB), influenza, measles, scarlet fever, malaria, and diphtheria.The average American city during the 19th century was a breeding ground for the frequent epidemics that occurred, killing thousands. Port cities were particularly susceptible to epidemics of infectious disease. New York, Boston, and Philadelphia were places where ships carrying foreign goods-and disease- were unloaded; they were also where potentially infected immigrants disembarked.Toward the end of the 19th century, as people searched for a way to control infectious diseases, the germ theory of disease was introduced. It became clear that impure water, crowding, poor housing, spoiled food, and other environmental conditions were contributing to high rates of disease in cities. In New York City, one out of every 36 people died in 1863, as compared to one out of 44 in Boston and Philadelphia. 190 infants out of every 1,000 didn't live to their first birthday, while nearly one-quarter of those reaching the age of 20 would not live to see thirty from 1840-1870.Which diseases affected 19th century populations the most? Cholera, yellow fever, and influenza, malaria, TB, and smallpox had the most major epidemics in the United States during the 1800's. Influenza, a common respiratory ailment transferred by aerosol droplets, occurred (continues to occur) in world-wide epidemics, usually spaced around forty-years apart. One of the world's largest influenza epidemics occurred from 1857-1859;the most famous influenza epidemic occurred in 1918, however, and killed over 21 million people world-wide. The next international influenza epidemic is predicted next year.Cholera, a severe diarrheal disease, kills over half of the people who contract it. It thrived in the newly industrialized and poorly sanitized urban cities of the 19th century. Advances in the control of this disease weren't reached until 1883, when Robert Koch, a German physician, discovered the causative agent of Cholera, the bacterium Vibrio Cholerae. Diseases such as cholera, spread through contamination (usually fecal matter) of food and water, could be halted simply by stopping the means of contamination, but this information wasn't used widely until the late 1800's and early 1900's. An English doctor and pioneer in the field of epidemiology traced the spread of cholera by death certificates in one area of...

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