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February 16, 1918


JAMA. 1918;70(7):443-448. doi:10.1001/jama.1918.02600070017007

Two causes of surgical and medical ailments were universally recognized among the early inhabitants of the Americas, one natural and the other supernatural. If the cause was not easily perceived, as was often the case, it was regarded as supernatural. The supernatural diseases were supposed to originate in various ways: by the casting of spells, by contact with some objectionable person or thing, or by the presence of something in the system, such as an evil spirit, a stone, a piece of wood, a worm or an insect. Manifestly, they came just as near to the recognition of bacteria as they could without knowing anything about them.

It must not be thought, however, that real causes were not given their due significance, if they made themselves sufficiently apparent, as often happened in surgical lesions at least. The ancient members of our profession were by no means always as childish as