Bodies were piled into mass graves—sometimes five bodies high. Towns were destroyed, families wiped out. As the Black Plague marched through Europe in the 14th century, it decimated half of the continent’s population.
Few were spared from loss.
Six hundred years later, the pestilence reared its head again. This time it killed around 10 million people in the late 19th century.
It was in this zenith that the murderer was uncovered.
In 1894, Swiss doctor Alexandre Yersin identified that the bacteria, Yersinia pestis, were the destructive beasts.
While stories of this scourge have largely been relegated to history books, we have never gotten rid of this disease.
Louis Pasteur was born in Dole France, married to Marie Laurent and had five children.
Three of his children died of typhoid fever, maybe leading to Pasteur’s drive to save people from disease.
He graduated in 1842 from Besancon College Royal de la Franche with honors in physics, mathematics, Latin, and drawing. Louis Pasteur later attended Ecole Normale to study physics and chemistry, specializing in crystals.
In his early research Pasteur worked with the wine growers of France, helping with the fermentation process to develop a way to pasteurize and kill germs.
He was granted U.S. patent 135,245 for “Improvement in Brewing Beer and Ale Pasteurization.”
Pasteur then worked within the textile industry finding a cure for a disease affecting silk worms.
He also found cures for chicken cholera, anthrax and rabies.
The Pasteur Institute
The Pasteur Institute was opened in 1888. During Louis Pasteur’s lifetime it was not easy for him to convince others of his ideas, controversial in their time but considered absolutely correct today.
Pasteur fought to convince surgeons that germs existed and carried diseases, and dirty instruments and hands spread germs and therefore disease. Pasteur’s pasteurization process killed germs and prevented the spread of disease.
The Germ Theory of Disease
Louis Pasteur’s main contributions to microbiology and medicine were; instituting changes in hospital/medical practices to minimize the spread of disease by microbes or germs, discovering that weak forms of disease could be used as an immunization against stronger forms and that rabies was transmitted by viruses too small to be seen under the microscopes of the time, introducing the medical world to the concept of viruses.
A rheumatism sufferer sits inside the carcass of a whale. Photo courtesy of the National Library of Australia
Climbing inside the carcass of a whale was once thought to bring relief to rheumatism sufferers, an Australian National Maritime Museum exhibit shows.
Staying inside the whale for about 30 hours was believed to bring relief from aches and pains for up to 12 months, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
It was thought to have started in the whaling town of Eden on Australia’s southern coast.
The practice is documented as part of the museum’s special whales season.
Now read on to find out about some of the drawbacks of this cure. via BBC News – Rheumatism sufferers sought relief inside a whale.
The influenza pandemic of 1918 killed well over 50 million people around the world.
There are photos of mass graves dug in Philadelphia to handle the bodies. There are hospital wards with so many beds that they look more like warehouses.
And there are the outdoor hospitals set up when the indoors ones were full, rows of white tents separating patients from one another.
The image above is less obviously horrifying. It shows people playing baseball while wearing masks.
The crowd wear masks as well. And that reflects the most terrifying and devastating aspect of the 1918 pandemic in a way the other pictures don’t:
It killed anyone. Young, healthy adults—of the sort that play baseball—normally rarely care about the flu, but the 1918 outbreak was different. It killed anyone, and we still don’t really know why.
The photo also represents a sad futility when you learn that the masks didn’t protect people.
While cotton gauze may stop bacteria, viruses are much smaller. Yet pictures record large groups wearing them, from police in Seattle, to paperboys in Canada, to soldiers in France, right down to the general public.
Not one of them was protected in any way from one of the deadliest events in human history.