Disease and Treatments in the Victorian Era

In my fifteen years of living, I have been vaccinated numerous times for all types of diseases; Polio, Measles, Mumps, and a few others. Immunization wasn’t available for the Victorians, and certain diseases, although different than the ones I was protected against, claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Victorians. The leading cause of death in the Victorian Era (1837-1901) was infectious diseases. About a third of all these deaths were those of children under the age of five. They didn’t have the healthcare we have today; they barely even knew what was killing them and making them sick.

The main diseases were Cholera, Tuberculosis, and Typhus. These diseases not only killed people but affected the lives of their family and kids. If the father got sick then there wouldn’t be any money or food for them to survive on. For example, Cholera, a terrible disease caused by bad sanitation, killed millions of people in the 19th century. Many Victorians died because of horrible diseases. Most victims were children under age five because their immune systems weren’t fully established yet. If a child also got the measles his/her immune system would be more vulnerable to infections that cause diseases.

It was even worse in crowded living quarters because it was hard to isolate the victim. In the impecunious parts of cities, the mortality rate of children was even higher due to the dirty and crowded living conditions. Cholera spread through contaminated fecal matter consumed through tainted food and water sources or because of poor sanitation and hygiene, like unwashed hands. Even little things like not washing their hands could kill them. Victorians didn’t know how the diseases were spread but sometimes tried to cure them by putting leaches on the body and when the leach fell off it meant it had collected all the bad blood (Socyberty).

The average Victorian citizen had no idea that some viruses could travel through air, while some needed to go through bodily fluids. “They also often did not understand that a symptom-free person could still be contagious” (Ice). Even today in Africa, people wonder what spirit or deity they offended to get diseases. Cholera is an infectious disease that causes diarrhea, cramps, and really bad dehydration and if a baby gets Cholera the diarrhea can kill a baby in up to 48 hours. In 1854, a Cholera outbreak in London caused 500 deaths in just ten days. It can kill a person from 2-3 hours to 2-3 days.

Cholera is caused by bad water and poor sanitation and a good example is in the poorer homes. In the poor homes the death rate was even greater due to the dirty and crowded living conditions which led to poor sanitation. They tried to cure it by taking laxatives or by trying to sweat it out. “Some of the symptoms include dehydration, sunken eyes, sometime pruny skin, extreme thirst and extreme cold” (Socyberty). Without treatment cholera can kill more than half of its victims. The body swells and decays so rapidly after death that burial was often immediate (Ice).

It spreads through the body fluids. And now with modern medicine the mortality rate of the people that get it is about 1 %( Socyberty). Another deadly disease was Consumption, or Tuberculosis which claimed the most young lives in the 19th century. The disease destroyed the lungs and was transmitted by sneezing and coughing by infected people or infected cows. It affected Victorians five to thirty who lived in an urban environment who had contact with an infected person. It causes weight loss, fever, night sweats, and fatigue. Later the person has a persistent cough, chest pain, and coughs up blood.

Before it gets really extreme, it can be cured with rest, fresh air, and sunshine (Brown). The victims could live a very long time but they had to live with attacks that could last for years or decades. It allowed those infected to get married, have children, and pass on the disease. Families could suffer from the infection for two, sometimes three generations. Passed from grandparent to parent to child, for much of the century, physicians thought the disease was hereditary, not contagious. It could take years to develop symptoms and only 5-10% who have the bacteria ever develop the disease (Eagan).

Besides cholera and tuberculosis, there was the another deadly disease called Typhus. It’s another infectious disease that causes severe headache, ongoing fever, and outbreaks of red rashes. Typhus was in London from 1870 to 1871. It even attacked Edward, the Prince of Wales. This disease was spread by body lice and if you lived in dirty conditions like the poor did it increased the risk of getting it. Victorians thought wine could cure Typhus, but along with other home-remedies it didn’t work. This disease was easily spread from one person to another and could, in fact, infect an entire city.

Once one got infected, it usually took a few weeks to several months for a person to pass away. Victorians realized that sanitation and medical science were good ways to help control diseases. It was time to take action so their society wasn’t going to be overrun by diseases. If medical science hadn’t discovered that typhus was linked to the contamination of water, London wouldn’t have helped improve the treatment of sewage to help stop the disease (Socyberty). As the living conditions of the poor improved, the spread of typhus declined.

Some treatments were used on diseased patients included; blistering, bleeding, purging, amputation, and surgery. Blistering was the most painful treatment because it involved pouring acid or hot plaster on the victim because the doctors thought the body could only cope with one illness at a time. Bleeding was when doctors let a victim bleed because they thought it helped lower the blood pressure. Purging was when doctors gave a victim a big dose of laxatives to flush out all the bad toxins. Amputation was when a limb was separated from the body so a disease wouldn’t spread to other parts of the body.

Doctors also amputated a limb when Victorians hurt it so bad it can’t be treated. The doctor makes the patient pass out with wine and chloroform and then the doctor cuts off the blood circulation above the part of the limb that’s going to be amputated. The doctor then cuts the flesh with a scalpel and saws the bone. He then plugs the veins and puts hot tar over it to seal it. Infection took place frequently because they did not have the knowledge of bacteria and sterilization. Surgery wasn’t so safe at first because they did not have antiseptic which would’ve allowed them to work longer without having the patient die (Socyberty).

Diseases played a major role in the lives of the Victorians, especially in the lives of the young and the elderly. Because of poor sanitation, cholera killed many of the Victorians because they drank tainted water and had poor hygiene. Tuberculosis was the disease that could last for many generations passing down from grandparent to parent to child. Sometimes they didn’t even know they had it. Typhus was spread easily because the body lice that infected Victorians could jump from one warm person to another and infect an entire city.

Because so many Victorians died of diseases, medical science discovered what was causing them, and by making cures they saved the lives of not only Victorians but also the people today. But, we are still not free of these horrible diseases. Still in the poorer parts of the world people die of diseases all the time due to bad hygiene, tainted water, poor living conditions, and just not enough knowledge of diseases. I have taken for granted all the vaccinations I have received in my young life. Diseases haven’t played as big as part in my life as they did in the Victorian Era.

If I had been born in the Victorian Era, my chances of survival would not have been as good as they are today due to modern healthcare.

Works Cited 1. “Diseases in Victorian Age. ” Socyberty. N. P. :30 Nov. 2009. web. 18. Sept. 2011. http://socyberty. com/history/diseases-in-the-victorian-age/. 2. Brown, Dr. Houghton. ”VictorianHealth. ”witheridge. N. P. ,3July2000. web. 11sept. 2011. http://www. witheridge. historical-archives. com/health-1. htm. 3. Ice,H. ”medicineinthevictorianera. ”EdP:Urquhart. NP. ,n-d. web. 31Aug2011. www. DoctorTreatments. com. 4.

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