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September 17, 1932


JAMA. 1932;99(12):1000. doi:10.1001/jama.1932.02740640042016

Ancient clinicians used to feel that the demon responsible for a specific epidemic hibernated in the underworld. Then, emaciated and ravenous, it fought its way past the holy ramparts into the city, where it fed first on defenseless infants, later on the stronger adults. Finally, satiated, it lost its lust for human flesh and retired for another hibernation. Modern clinicians consider this merely a fantastic explanation of the observed course of epidemics. However, L. T. Webster1 asserts that many of our current epidemiologic theories are nothing more than thinly disguised paraphrases of this ancient demonic metaphor.

Bacteriologists of the Pasteur-Koch era intuitively translated many ancient traditions into the newly developed language. They assumed, for example, and apparently without realizing the necessity of experimental proof, that specific infectious agents are always introduced into a community in an attenuated form and are subsequently increased in virulence or infectivity by successive human