Imagine diseases such as whooping cough, scarlet fever, measles and diphtheria being an expected part of childhood. Imagine streets filled with garbage, vermin and human excrement. Imagine hospital operations being performed without sterile instruments.
Thankfully, these situations are no longer the norm for most Australians. In fact, death rates have fallen and life expectancies increased dramatically over the past century!
Why the change?
Not much was known about the transmission of disease before the 1800’s, when scientists began to prove that microorganisms caused phenomena such as spoiling of food. It has been since this time that the enormous benefit of hygiene in preventing the spread of disease-causing organisms (“pathogens”) has come to be understood.
Greater understanding has led, in many countries, to changes in public sanitation, improved hygiene practices, and development of products to help maintain personal hygiene, hygiene in the home, public hygiene, and hygiene in industrial settings.
Of course, vaccinations, medical advances, improved nutrition and living conditions have also played a large part in improving health. But it is clear that improvements in personal and public hygiene have had a huge part to play in the recent history of death and disease.