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JAMA Revisited
August 25, 2015

The House: Its Unique Problems in Hygiene

JAMA. 2015;314(8):839. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.11944

A house erected in accord with modern science and the builder’s art must satisfy a few apparently simple needs. These have been cleverly summarized in the following words:1 protection from the elements, from cold and heat, from rain and snow and damp, from intruders who might interfere with the family safety or possessions; water at hand; some way of getting rid of waste; space for the family, for all their occupations and belongings; room for a guest: these were sought by even the cave dwellers. And we have not passed beyond these simple needs. Our enemies are of a different kind, but the daily paper shows that we must pay for safety locks; and while wild animals no longer prowl about, we find it almost impossible to keep out rats and mice and harmful insects. The “house” fly is now called a “typhoid” fly, and not permitted even as a casual visitor. To all these needs we have added what the cave man did not seek for, since his life was largely out of doors. We must have air and sun within doors. Doctors are now talking about house diseases. Tuberculosis is one of these, and the fight against it must be made, in part, just here. It is for sun and air that we have to pay large rents in town; and it is partly to secure these in our large dwellings that tenement-house commissions exist, to protect those who cannot protect themselves. Then, too, there must be protection against fire, not only by the fire department but also in the house itself. Modern nerves, moreover, demand quiet. We may want our own phonograph, but we do not care to hear our neighbor’s, and walls and floors must be built to keep out sounds. We call these simple needs. They would seem to be human rights; but even now, in this twentieth century, how many houses rank 100 per cent. in all these: in warmth and coolness at proper seasons; perfect dryness, ventilation and lighting; safety from fire and intruders; and room for each member of the family to be by himself, and to keep an open door to guests? Yet, we cannot be as well or as happy or as useful as we should, until these are achieved.

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