August 3, 2012

Medicine in the Nineteenth Century: Old Names for Old Diseases Part 2


Last time we talked about consumption and La Grippe.  Here are some more old names for old diseases:
Catarrh:  Usually meant the common cold.  The term was also used for any inflammation of the mucous membranes, nose or air passages which resulted in a thick discharge such as tonsillitis or inflammation of the adenoids.  Of course, today the common cold continues to wreak havoc on us all.  Viruses called rhinoviruses, among others, are the culprits so taking antibiotics is of no use in treating a cold (antibiotics are aimed at bacteria, a different kind of critter altogether). There are over-the-counter drugs that can be taken to lessen the symptoms and duration of a cold, but basically we must endure a cold just as others have done before us.

Ague: Malaria or a disease marked by chills, fever and sweating at regular intervals.  Malaria remains a killer even today with hundreds of thousands of deaths every year, particularly in children.  Malaria is caused by a type of parasite of the genus Plasmodium that is injected into the bloodstream by the bite of a mosquito. Before the discovery of quinine back in the 1800’s, there was no effective treatment for malaria. Today we have multiple drugs that are effective in treating the disease and prevention is aimed at avoiding mosquito bites, eradicating mosquitos and taking medications before and during exposure.

Blood Poisoning:  Refers to disease causing organisms in the blood (bacteria) or to use the medical term – septicemia.  Before the discovery of antibiotics in the 1940’s, there was no treatment for blood poisoning so any type of would or infection could prove fatal.  Today, with modern culture techniques to identify the bacteria and determine which antibiotic works best for that particular bug, and the use of intravenous administration of antibiotics, blood poisoning, in most cases, can be cured.
“The Pox”:  Before we knew what it was, syphilis was referred to as “the Pox”.  A venereal disease caused by the bacteria Treponema pallidum; it has devastating physical signs and symptoms.  “Google” the term syphilis and click on Images to see the horrible effects of this disease (warning – only for those with a strong stomach). First described in the literature of the 1400’s, syphilis is still around today. Testing for syphilis is well established and penicillin-type antibiotics (discovered in the 1940’s) is an effective treatment in most cases.

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