History of Immunisation
Prehistoric man was unlikely to have been troubled by infectious diseases. The hunter-gatherer way of life precluded the existence of large communities, which are necessary for the survival of most microbes (bugs) living on humans. The development of agriculture, and populous villages and towns, provided an environment in which infections started to thrive. Since that time, infectious diseases have been the scourge of mankind. Governments have, for centuries, tried to control the worst epidemics.
In 1346, Edward II attempted to expel all lepers from the City of London to halt the spread of leprosy. Elizabeth I took rather more drastic measures during an epidemic of the plague in London in 1564. She took refuge in Windsor, where anyone arriving from London was hanged in specially erected gallows in the market square.
The importance and severity of different infectious diseases has waxed and waned naturally over time. Smallpox, for example, was considered a mild illness in the early sixteenth century. Within a hundred years it had become Europe’s most feared disease.
In 1876, the average life expectancy from birth in England and Wales was 41 years for a man and 43 for a woman. A third of all deaths were caused by infection. The biggest killers were tuberculosis (TB), scarlet fever, whooping cough and measles, all of which caused many more deaths than smallpox. It is no wonder that control of infectious diseases was seen as one of the most desirable goals in medicine.
Click on the links below to find out what the effect was of diseases before immunisation, and how much immunisation has contributed to the decline in infectious diseases.
The decline in smallpox
The rises and falls of Scarlet Fever
The decline of infectious diseases