A brief overview
of medicine as it developed worldwide provides a context for the medical
history of Utah.
and women played, and are still playing, a very important role in primitive
tribes throughout the world. Much real knowledge has accumulated, and
many drugs now in common use in modern medicine, such as digitalis and
quinine, came from this source. Taxol, from yew tree bark, used in treating
ovarian carcinoma, is the most recent addition.
of early surgery has been found in skeletons of many primitive peoples
in the form of trephines--surgical holes in the head--which supposedly
allowed evil spirits to escape from the brain. Throughout the Middle
Ages, barber-surgeons performed amputations and other emergency procedures.
The lack of anesthesia until the mid-nineteenth century (chloroform
and ether) prevented the more widespread use of surgery. In general,
these early medical experts tried to follow the primary principle of
Aristotle: "First, do no harm!"
of scientific medicine date to 1796 when Edward Jenner, in England,
first vaccinated milkmaids against cow pox. Not until 1840 was it recognized
that certain diseases were transmitted by external agents: Ignaz Semmelwis
in Vienna demonstrated that childbed fever was transmitted by the dirty
hands of physicians; and John Snow in London ascribed an epidemic of
cholera to contamination of water.
The science of
bacteriology was initiated in the latter part of the nineteenth century
by Louis Pasteur in France and by Robert Koch in Germany. Their work
led to the identification of the offending organisms that caused pneumococcal
pneumonia, typhoid fever, and cholera, among other diseases.
In 1905 Schaudin
and Hoffman identified the specific cause of syphilis. Four years later,
Paul Ehrlich initiated treatment of the disease with Salvarsan, an arsenic
compound--the first application of a specific drug in the successful
treatment of an infectious disease.
Despite the development
of certain vaccines and the steadily improving hygiene and public health,
the average life expectancy did not increase significantly during the
nineteenth century. Infectious diseases continued to dominate the practice
of medicine and be the primary cause of death until the mid-1930s when
sulfonamides, the first of the antibiotics, came into use.