Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Fighting Infection in the Nineteenth Century

Many months I struggle for an idea to blog on. This month, I've been fighting a sinus infection, so decided I'd investigate how infection was treated in the 1900s.

We know that the invention of antibiotics and antimicrobial therapies are one of the greatest achievements of modern medicine. We also know that they're highly overused and as a result, our systems are becoming immune requiring the development of stronger antibiotics. We must use antibiotics responsibly.

Courtesy Google Images
So, let's talk about blood, leeches and knifes. Bloodletting originated in Egypt in 1000 B.C. and continued in use until the middle of the 20th century. All the way up until the 1940s medical texts recommend bloodletting for a multitude of conditions but mainly for infections.

Courtesy Google Images
Ancient medical theory is that the four major humors of the body—blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile—must remain in balance. It was believed infection was caused by an excess of blood, so a vein was opened and blood released. Or hot glass cups, called cupping, were place over the skin. The heat would cause small blood vessels to break and cause bleeding under the skin. Then there were the leeches.

Oft times, the blood letting was performed by barbers or barber surgeons. Think of the barber pole—red, white and blue. It was an advertisement for their blood letting services.

"There may actually have been some benefit to the practice - at least for certain kinds of bacteria in the early stages of infection. Many bacteria require iron to replicate, and iron is carried on heme, a component of the red blood cell. In theory, fewer red blood cells resulted in less available iron to sustain the bacterial infection."

Natural chemical elements and chemical compounds  were used for a variety of infections, wounds and syphilis. Topical iodine, bromine and mercury containing compounds were used to treat infected wounds and gangrene during the American Civil War. Bromine was frequently used but painful either injected or applied topically and often caused tissue damage and side effects were optics neuritis, seizures, fever, kidney injury and rash.

In 1943, penicillin was developed and remains the first-line therapy for all stages of syphilis.

Plants used for treatments. Quinine, from the cinchona tree is used to treat malaria. Another effective treatment is Artemisinin (sweet wormwood) plant.

Honey was used  by the Sumerians in 2000 B.C. "The high sugar content can dehydrate bacterial cells, while acidity can inhibit growth and division of many bacteria. Honey also has an enzyme, glucose oxidase, that reduces oxygen to hydrogen peroxide, which kills bacteria."

A medical grade honey—MEDI-HONEY—is used to promote healing in burns and other wounds.

Courtesy Google Images
It is my understanding that there are also medical grade leeches. I'm sorry, but I'll pass when it comes to leeches.  How about you?

I've read many books where they've used some of these treatments in treating wounds and diseases. If you can think of some, please share.

Reference:  Vice Dean, Texas A&M College of Medicine, Texas A&M University

Thanks for stopping by and Happy Reading and Writing!

Linda LaRoque

1 comment:

  1. Linda, I used maggots to debride gangrenous tissue in THE MOST UNSUITABLE COURTSHIP. Beth Trissel does an interesting course on the health benefits of various plants. Great post.


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