Disease and History: Medical Science

Figure 1.--Here we see a colorized English magic latern lide showing a group of boys trying to get their friend, who has the flu, to come out and play. The slie is undated, but would have been taken in the 1890s. This is just at the time that the existence of viuses was first proven. The lack of understanding of viruses meant that scientists and doctors were powerless to deal with the deadly flu pandemic that struck at the end of World War I (1918-19).

The history of medical science is a fasscinating story. Even before the development of civilization, humans began to notice the medicinal properties of plants and substances. Several ancient authors addressed the topic, spcilly the Greek. But without scientific knowledge there was little they could do. Hippocrates of Kos (Hippocrates II) was a Greek physician of the Age of Pericles, is one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine. The Roman physician Galen (c129199 AD) dominated Western medicine for centuries. During the medieval era it was the Islamic world that preserved and built on classical knowledge. Several scholars such as Ali ibn Sahl Rabban al-Tabari (860 AD) advanced medical knowledge. As the Islamic world turned away from science toward a narrow religious outlook, it would be the Christian West that would develop modern medical science. Bacterial disceases were the first to be addressed bcause bacteria, a least bacterial growths, could be observed. Bacteriology began after science had been invented in the West. Experimental work with began with many inportant scintific discoveries (17th century). Botanists and zoologists tried to structure and classify the world of the invisible living organisms (18th century). Bacteriology was established as the science of disease germs (1880s). The German physician Robert Koch brought the science of microorganisms moved into the realm of medicine. Viruses were more of a problem because they were so incredably small. The history of virology began somewhat later (late-19th century). Louis Pasteur and Edward Jenner developed the first vaccines to protect against viral infections, but they had no idea about the science behind their treatmets. They did not even know that viruses existed. The first evidence that viruses came from experiments with filters that had pores small enough to retain bacteria. Dmitry Ivanovsky used one of these filters to show that sap from a diseased tobacco plant remained infectious to healthy tobacco plants despite having been filtered (1892). Martinus Beijerinck called the filtered, infectious substance a 'virus' and this discovery was the launch of virology. The subsequent discovery and partial characterization of bacteriophages by Felix d'Herelle further catalyzed the field, and many viruses were discovered (early-20 th century). Unfortuntely this work was to limited to give scietists the tools needed to address the deadly flu epidemic at the end of World War I.


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Created: 1:15 AM 2/4/2018
Last updated: 1:15 AM 2/4/2018