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Eras in EpidemiologyThe Evolution of Ideas$
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Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780195300666

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195300666.001.0001

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Contagion, Infection, and the Idea of Specific Agents

Contagion, Infection, and the Idea of Specific Agents

Chapter:
(p.73) 8 Contagion, Infection, and the Idea of Specific Agents
Source:
Eras in Epidemiology
Author(s):

Mervyn Susser

Zena Stein

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195300666.003.0008

This chapter focuses on the historical development of the notion of transmissible infection. In the late 18th century, developments in the field of infection began to tail off. The great and influential physician Thomas Sydenham gave a new lease of life to miasma with a theory that gave currency to a refinement: the ‘epidemic constitution’ he posited arose from the emanations of miasma. The theory invoked vernal and autumnal entities of disease attributed to changes in season and atmosphere in the spring and fall respectively. The theory was plausible to the degree that epidemic infections do in reality vary by season. In consequence, the concept of contagion lost ground both in theory and practice. Only in the mid-1800s, did intimations of contagion sustain a strong challenge to miasma theory. Within the following decade, other seminal works indirectly fortified the likelihood that infection was transmissible from person to person whether by direct contact, inhalation, or ingestion. The contributions of Peter Ludwig Panum, Alexander Gordon, Ignác Semmelweis, Joseph Lister, John Snow, and William Budd are discussed.

Keywords:   Thomas Sydenham, miasma, transmissible infections, Peter Ludwig Panum, Alexander Gordon, Ignác Semmelweis, Joseph Lister, John Snow, William Budd

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