14 Reasons Why Millions Once Died from Infectious Diseases

Kate William;
Why did so many people once die from diseases like smallpox? Were the people vaccine-deficient, or is there more to this story? A glimpse into history soon reveals why disease was so rampant during the 1800’s, and early 1900’s.
In Victorian England, the average life expectancy of the working class was just 16 years old. Those who made it to 30 or 40 years of age were ‘old’ and worn out. Here’s why:
During the 19th century, the population of London swelled by more than eight-fold, from 800,000 to 7 million inhabitants. All across the western world, as the Industrial Revolution took hold, vast numbers of rural folk moved into towns and cities, on the promise of a better life. For many, it turned into a nightmare…With housing in short supply, unscrupulous landlords leased every spare inch to desperate families – dingy damp cellars, fire-trap attics and under-stair storage rooms, many without any ventilation or light. Can you imagine the moldy, stale air that these people were constantly breathing – no wonder so many had lung problems!
Entire streets had to share one outdoor toilet, which was usually in foul condition – cleaning supplies were expensive, and flies hung around in droves (and then made their way through open windows to nearby kitchens etc)…and of course, there was always somebody with a bad case of diarrhea. Sewerage drained into waterways via open channels in the streets and lanes, or simply lay stagnant in stinking cesspools of filth.
With no environmental laws in place, raw sewage poured into drinking water supplies, as did run-off and toxic waste from factories and animal slaughterhouses.
With slow, unreliable transport, and no refrigeration, food was often past its use-by date. Diseased and rotting meat was made into sausages and ham. Before pasteurization, milk was treated with formaldehyde to prevent souring. Fresh produce, when it was available, was often slimy and not fit for human consumption.
Because doctors were offended at the suggestion that they had dirty hands, in need of washing, about 1 in 3 mothers died from infection after childbirth. Their infants had a 4x higher risk of dying, usually from infections. If the baby survived past infancy, they could usually look forward to a life of malnutrition, hard labor and improper care, often performed by older siblings. During the Industrial Revolution, many mothers worked long hours in factories, leaving their young children in the care of hired ‘nurse-girls’, who were little more than children themselves, between 8-12yrs of age.
With the Industrial Revolution in full swing, and labor in short supply, children as young as four and five were put to work in sweatshops and factories. Many of the jobs involved long hours, working in dangerous conditions, such as around heavy machinery or working near furnaces. Children were regularly crushed to death, or had limbs severed, in some of the more dangerous industries, such as underground mining. Basically, millions of children had no childhood, but a monotonous, depressing existence.
Factories spewed soot and waste into the air, unchecked and unregulated. Cities were covered in a layer of grease and grime. Lung and chest complaints were rife. And then there was the ever-present stench of open sewage, rubbish, animal dung etc. In fact, the stench was so bad in 1858, the British parliament was suspended so members could go home and try to find relief behind closed doors. It became known as “The Great Stink”.
Infant formulas – albeit poor quality ones – were introduced in the mid-1800’s, and over the next 100 years, breastfeeding rates dropped to just 25%. Not only did millions of babies miss out on the nurturing of their mother’s breast, but their formula was poor quality, and often made with contaminated water in unsterile bottles. It’s hardly a wonder that so many babies succumbed to diarrheal infections, such as typhoid fever.
Alleys and courtyards became littered with rubbish and waste – sometimes knee-high, which was not only offensive-smelling, but a great attraction for rats, pigs, dogs, cockroaches and swarms of flies.
Because horses and donkeys were used to transport goods, they also had to be housed in overcrowded cities, often in close quarters to humans, since space was at a premium. Rotting carcases were left to decompose where they lay. Animal poo was a constant feature of the city streets. Pigs roamed freely in the streets, ferreting amongst the rubbish – some towns recorded more resident pigs than people. Animal slaughterhouses were located in amongst high-density tenement housing – animals were constantly slaughtered in full view of the surrounding residents, and the sounds and smell of death were constantly in the air.
With less than 2% of the urban population with running water to their homes, and soap/detergents being expensive, washing of hands, clothes, plates and utensils was often done with dirty, recycled water, or not at all. And what about all the cloth diapers and sanitary pads?
Millions of families subsisted on the cheapest food possible, sometimes only eating a meal every second day. Malnutrition was rife. For example, at the turn of the 20th century, an estimated 1 in 2 children were suffering from rickets. In young girls, this often led to deformed hips, which then led to problems in childbirth, at a later date. With so little fresh fruits and vegetables in the diet, scurvy (Vitamin C deficiency) also claimed many lives – an estimated 10,000 men during the California Gold Rush in the mid-1800’s. Even in those who did not have scurvy, a mild deficiency in Vitamin C must have been prevalent, leading to weakened immunity to disease and infection.
If you thought blood-letting and leeches were dubious enough, how about an injection of arsenic – proudly brought to you by Merck and Co? Or a gargle with mercury – where’s the harm? And if you have smallpox, we’ll dab your sores with corrosives…you know, to kill germs. It’s highly possible that the medical ‘treatments’ killed more people than the diseases they were intended to treat (sounds like the modern cancer industry). Hospitals were known to be breeding-grounds of disease, and in some cases, over-run by rats that were known to feed on patients.
We now know that stress takes a huge toll on the immune system. Can you imagine the mental anguish of being surrounded by abject poverty, and seeing no way of escape for yourself or your children? Or the panic of watching everybody you love succumb to a dreaded disease, and not having the knowledge or means to protect yourself? Or the dreariness of having absolutely nothing beautiful to look at, or any small comfort to make life more bearable? Not to mention the stress of toiling for long hours in monotonous or dangerous work, with hardly a piece of dry bread to fill your hungry stomach?
Note that lack of vaccines is not on the list? That is because vaccines did not save us from diseases like you have been led to believe. See, it wasn’t so much that the diseases were killers on their own, but the horrendous living conditions made them so. People simply couldn’t keep up their defenses against such a constant onslaught.
Researchers (McKinley & McKinley) carefully analyzed all the data from 1900 to the 1970’s and came to the conclusion that all medical advancements combined (which includes vaccination, and the discovery of penicillin, among other things) could only account for 3.7% of the decrease in deaths from infectious diseases. If they went back further, into the 1800’s, that figure would be even less impressive…
We can thank toilets and plumbers and cars and fridges and fruit and town planners and clean water, and so forth, for the other 96.3% decrease in mortality from infectious diseases.