In the eighteenth century, smallpox succeeded plague as the most feared disease. The two maladies, however, are very different. While plague is a bacterial disease, smallpox is viral. Plague is spread by rats and fleas, smallpox is transmitted by contact and airborne inhalation. Unlike plague, smallpox can exist as an endemic as well as an epidemic disease. The dread of smallpox was a result of its agonizing and unpleasant symptoms, which, in the case of survival, often left victims permanently disfigured. Prior to the discovery and successful implementation of inoculation and vaccination regimes, a host of ineffective and often dangerous treatments were attempted, including bleeding, purging, and cauterization of affected areas.
Fenn, Pox Americana
This course consists of an international analysis of the impact of epidemic diseases on western society and culture from the bubonic plague to HIV/AIDS and the recent experience of SARS and swine flu. Leading themes include: infectious disease and its impact on society; the development of public health measures; the role of medical ethics; the genre of plague literature; the social reactions of mass hysteria and violence; the rise of the germ theory of disease; the development of tropical medicine; a comparison of the social, cultural, and historical impact of major infectious diseases; and the issue of emerging and re-emerging diseases.
This Yale College course, taught on campus twice per week for 50 minutes, was recorded for Open Yale Courses in Spring 2010.