Infectious Diseases Commonly Feared in the 19th Century Are Back

DiseasesTuberculosis, mumps, measles, whooping cough, scurvy and scarlet fever were once feared diseases largely eradicated in the Western developed countries with vaccines, knowledge and modern medicine. The U.S. saw measles, mumps and whooping cough spread in unvaccinated and even vaccinated people this year. In the United Kingdom, the situation is even worse with infectious diseases commonly feared in the Victorian era are back in England in alarming numbers over the past few years, according to the country’s National Health Service (NHS).

The resurgence of potentially deadly diseases in the U.K. is alarming. In the past five years, the known cases of scarlet fever increased by 136 percent and scurvy by approximately 38 percent. Even worse, cholera cases in England are up 300 percent, according to the NHS. Tuberculosis (TB) rates in England declined in the past few years but are still alarmingly high, with some communities exceeding infection rates seen in developing nations like Rwanda and Guatemala.

“There has been a huge rise in scarlet fever — 14,000 [suspected] cases in the last year,” London-based immunologist, Dr. Nuria Martinez-Alier, told reporters. The doctor also commented on the number of TB patients, and added, “We’ve seen a rise in cases of whooping cough; we have seen more measles in the last 10 years than in the last 10 years before that.”

All of these diseases are treatable with medication. However, with the exception of scarlet fever, they are also all preventable and uncommon mere decades ago.

The increases in childhood diseases like mumps, measles and whooping cough within the U.S. are blamed on people not having their children vaccinated. However, when someone does catch one of these illnesses, which 10 years ago many of today’s doctors had never seen, they spread it rapidly if out in public. Cases in point are the over 100 people who caught the measles this year that were directly attributable to a sick visitor to Disneyland and the mumps cases that spread around the National Hockey League.

In the U.K., lower vaccination rates are an issue, but public health officials and others blame cuts to social services, increase poverty and immigration. The latter includes legal and illegal immigrant who would not have access to or fear of contacting public health services. Poverty and immigration are attributable to the doubling of malnutrition cases in England in the past three years.

During the Victorian era, there were no antibiotics, poor nutrition led to scurvy, and cholera was associated with slums and lack of access to clean drinking water. Consumption (as TB was called then) affected vast numbers. With vaccines and modern medicine, public health officials in the U.K., U.S. and elsewhere are concerned are the resurgence of so many infectious diseases that were commonly feared in the 19th century.

Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss

UPI: ‘Victorian’ disease resurgence in England follows global pattern
Public Health England: Scarlet fever: beginning of a new season
Daily Star Albany: Common diseases in the 19th century are return back
Modern Readers: ‘Victorian’ Disease Epidemic in England Blamed on Rising Poverty

Scarlet fever photo by Alicia Williams (Estreya) – Creative Commons license

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