Public Health in The 19th Century

In the 19th century public health was put in the spotlight, when scientist realized that cleanliness was the resolution to illness, it became top priority. Because of the high illness rates the poor would be blamed since the poverty rate was so high. Citizens failed to realize that the poor couldn’t help the fact that they couldn’t afford food with proper nutrients, to keep these illnesses away. Also poverty was not the only cause of sickness, it was also their living standards. The improvement of public health started in the mid 19th century, but the 20th century is when things were actually put in perspective and actions for improvement were made.

During the late 18th century there were a lot of anti-vaccination riots[i] because of inoculation (the process of vaccination). Some didn’t want to get vaccinated because of religious reasons, and most people didn’t think it was safe for their children. Doctors would take someone that was infected, cut a piece of their scab, then would cut the patient and put the scab in the skin. A vaccination Act was passed in 1840, stating that parents had till their infant was 3 months to make sure their baby was vaccinated, if not they would be fined or put in jail. But in 1867 there was another Act passed that allowed the vaccination requirement age to be 14. Public health in America didn’t start till way later after the European countries, by the time they knew how to prevent disease, the states would just be learning[ii] about them. And this is when disease control came into play, when epidemics such as yellow fever and malaria came, there had to be some type of ordinance. Disease control was founded in the summer of 1942 in Atlanta, GA, their main goal/ focus was to try and stop malaria from spreading throughout the states. As they kept fighting to keep illness away, they decided to focus on other diseases and how to prevent them.

[iii]    [iv]

“The Death Storm”, formally known as 1855 yellow fever, the first case in the states happened in July of 1855, which mainly affected the Norfolk and Portsmouth area of Virginia. The first victim was a worker on the ships[v], that were coming back from Africa, within 3 days of getting the virus he died. Throughout the summer and fall, there were about 80 deaths a day, due to the virus with estimates to about 3,000 casualties[vi]. Many people fled to New York, Richmond and Petersburg seeking refuge. Since most of the people that were affected were poor and immigrants, people thought that it was transmitted through cleanliness[vii] when really its transmitted through mosquitoes. By August, streets were burned to the ground as a result to get rid of the disease.

I say all of this to say that you never realize how much cleanliness affects you. Back then no one really payed attention to the way they lived because they didn’t know the effects of it, it was how they grew up and how their parents grew up. Because of those epidemics and preventions that were discovered we now live the way we do now. All of the tragedies and discoveries that happened in the 19th century and before, has really helped us and our family live longer lives.










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