The Deadly Truth: A History of Disease in America

By Gerald N. Grob | Go to book overview

Prologue

"It is seldom recognized," wrote the distinguished biologist René Dubos in 1961, "that each type of society has diseases peculiar to itself-indeed, that each civilization creates its own diseases. Furthermore, there is no evidence that the techniques developed for dealing with the disease problems of one generation can cope with the problems of another." Conceding that new chapters in the history of medicine were likely, Dubos nevertheless argued that such chapters are "likely to be as full of diseases as its predecessors; "although" the diseases will only be different from those of the past."1 To many Dubos's observations appear unduly pessimistic and obsolete, particularly in view of the advances in medical science since World War II. Before 1940, to be sure, the major function of medicine had been the diagnosis of disease; the therapeutic armamentarium was hardly impressive. With the exception of a limited number of medications (digoxin, thyroxine, insulin), immunization for a few infectious diseases, and surgical procedures, physicians had few means of coping with most infections, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and many other illnesses of long duration. In an analysis of a classic medical textbook published in 1927, Paul B. Beeson found that most of the recommended treatments of the pre-World War II era had disappeared by 1975. Indeed, some of the therapies deployed before 1940 probably did more harm than good. The prevention of disease, however attractive, remained a Utopian goal.2

After World War II medical practice underwent fundamental changes. The development of antibiotic drugs and vaccines seemed to

-1-

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The Deadly Truth: A History of Disease in America
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Prologue 1
  • Chapter 1 - The Pre-Columbians 7
  • Chapter 2 - New Diseases in the Americas 26
  • Chapter 3 - Colonics of Sickness 48
  • Chapter 4 - The Promise of Enlightened Health 70
  • Chapter 5 - Threats to Urban Health 96
  • Chapter 6 - Expanding America, Declining Health 121
  • Chapter 7 - Threats of Industry 153
  • Chapter 8 - Stopping the Spread of Infection 180
  • Chapter 9 - The Discovery of Chronic Illness 217
  • Chapter 10 - No Final Victory 243
  • Notes 277
  • Index 339
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