How sanitation conquered disease long before vaccines or antibiotics
Draining the swamp
In an earlier post, I outlined our main weapons against infectious disease, including vaccines, antibiotics, antiseptics, pest control, sanitation, and general hygiene. These technologies (in a broad sense, even hand-washing is a technology) have largely eliminated lethal diseases such as smallpox, malaria, cholera, tuberculosis, and polio, at least in the developed world.
But which of these technologies mattered most? Which should we highlight in a history of health and medicine, and which should we hold in our minds as major examples of human progress against disease?
Most histories of medicine give the spotlight to vaccines and antibiotics. They’re the most effective medical treatments; prior to their introduction, there was little a doctor could do for an infected patient.
But to really answer the question, we should look at mortality rates over time, by disease where possible, and correlate reductions in mortality to specific interventions effective against specific classes of disease. Otherwise we run the risk of assuming that just since something is in all the histories, it must be the most important (leading me to then feature it prominently in my history, thereby perpetuating the cycle).
So I started looking into the data and interpretations of it. And the surprising thing I found is that infectious disease mortality rates have been declining steadily since long before vaccines or antibiotics.…
Read the post: https://rootsofprogress.org/draining-the-swamp