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November 15, 1985

Social mores influence lessons of science

JAMA. 1985;254(19):2720. doi:10.1001/jama.1985.03360190024003

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"The miasmatic, contingent contagionist theorists of the Victorian public health reform were heavily influenced both by the state of medical science and social conditions. Social conditions continued to limit the impact of medical science on public health even after the first generation of reformers and the emergence of bacteriology."

So stated Dale C. Smith, PhD, in a talk on "Eberth, Escherich, and Enteric Fever," given at this year's annual meeting of the American Association for the History of Medicine in Durham, NC. By examining the nature of medical science available to the medical practitioners and reformers of the late 19th century, Smith was not trying to glean practical medical information but was exploring the ways in which culture and technology influence medicine.

Although the etiological agent of typhoid fever was discovered in 1880 and practitioners had a fairly complete knowledge of the pathology and epidemiology of the disease, typhoid continued