Health and medicine between 1750 and 1900

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The Industrial Revolution between 1750 and 1900 brought on major advances in medicine, especially in the fields of hygiene and vaccinations for previously deadly diseases. Scientists started thinking more logically about preventing disease and infection and, during this time, managed to greatly influence the health practices that we have today. In this essay, I shall be showing the continuity and change in the field of prevention of diseases. The revolution for vaccinations started with a discovery in 1796 by Edward Jenner.

He found that both cowpox and smallpox were very similar and that by injecting the patient with the reasonably harmless cowpox they would then be immune to smallpox! The finding of vaccinations carried on rapidly and by 1900 a vaccine had been found for: cholera (1879), anthrax (1881), rabies (1882), tetanus and diphtheria (developed in 1890 by Emil Von Behring who also discovered antitoxins), typhoid fever (1896) and plague (1897). Likewise, there were many other extremely important and influential discoveries during the time of the revolution.

X-rays were brought in in 1895 by Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen and in 1899 aspirin was manufactured by Felix Hoffman. These were all major changes for the better and contributed to making diseases less deadly and more uncommon. Not only did medicine improve, hygiene was also modernized and undertook significant changes for the better. In 1867, Joseph Lister published his book ‘Antiseptic Principle of the Practice of Surgery’ and a dramatic change followed- even stretching to the death rates shooting down from 60% to 4% in one hospital!

It stated that, instead of the doctor simply brushing their medical instruments on an old rag or their clothes, the tools used should be washed in carbolic acid before next use. It also described the urgency in cleaning wounds with the acid as well to prevent infection and a spread of diseases and blood poisoning. By 1900, local councils had started to improve their water supplies and sewages to help to avoid disease. Previously, both had been in the same supply and people would wash clothes, bathe and even cook with sewage ridden water- immediately creating a greater risk of bacteria and viruses spreading.

Although the 1800s had greatly improved medicine, there were still many inadequate features in public healthcare. Vaccines and proper treatment for diseases like: rickets, diabetes, mumps, rubella, measles, chicken pox, whooping cough, tetanus, pneumonia, yellow fever, typhus, polio, meningitis and meningitis (as well as others) were not discovered until later on in the 20th century and thus there was still a large risk of death from catching a, deadly at the time, disease.

Midwifery was still a fairly unexplored topic and women and babies were at a high risk of death through a problem during the birth (for example if the baby was stuck there were very few ways to help). Little was also known about the human body and blood and it was not until 1901 that blood types and compatibility was discovered and 1907 when the first blood transfusion was made. Your social status made a massive impact on the healthcare provided for you, there being no NHS at this time.

As well as having better living conditions overall and thus there being a smaller chance of catching a deadly disease, rich, upper class citizens would have been able to afford proper treatment and the more advanced, sophisticated cures and medicines- this opposing the situation of the poorer majority who would often have to rely on cheap home remedies that, most of the time, would have no affect at all on fighting whatever disease or medical condition that they had.

Not only unable to afford the right treatment, the lower class living in towns and cities would have had small yet very crowded homes and would have had to deal with a poor hygiene system. Mounds of waste on the streets at regular intervals and inadequate sewage access were a few examples of this. The 19th century was still greatly a time of bias towards men and in a family they would have been the priority to keep healthy due to the larger variety of work for and need for male workers in vital industries (although this was much less important for the upper class) .

Throughout the Industrial Revolution, medicine was dramatically changed for the better. Significant progress had been made in the development of new medical treatments and the findings of scientists during this time have greatly contributed towards the standards of healthcare that we expect today. However, the new medical advances did not help everyone and only those who could afford it were affected by these changes.

Going to the doctors could be expensive and thus the poorer class still had to rely on their own ritual for cures. Although this was a major problem and being healthy and at a low risk of catching a deadly disease was an almost impossible thing to achieve during the 9th century, the Revolution was a major breakthrough that largely helped the public health in the long run and completely renovated the way that we view medical health and hygiene today.

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