Notes on History of Medicine

Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564) Aristotle's theory that men have more teeth than women hung on for 1900 years until Vesalius bothered to count. Vesalius also showed that Galen (130-200) was just plain wrong in many of his anatomical descriptions that were taught for over a thousand years without question. Vesalius was attacked by people who used theories of Aristotle and Galen to show Vesalius must be wrong. Wrong ideas hang on for years and years.
Lazaro Spallanzani (1729-1799)Argued against spontaneous generation. Showed that microbes do not appear in a sealed flask. Observed reproduction of microbes by splitting.
Edward Jenner (1749-1823) Showed that vaccination with cowpox created an immunity to (prevented) smallpox.
Ignaz Semmelweiss (1818-1865) The rate of childbed fever could be reduced if doctors would wash their hands before touching patients. This idea was strongly attacked based on theory that childbed fever has 64 causes, including pregnancy, guilt, and miasma. The Semmelweiss doctrine (handwashing) did not become standard practice until after his death.
Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) Chemist who contributed greatly to germ theory of disease. He noted that different microbes were present in wine that was good, that tasted like vinegar, and tasted like burnt rope. Repeated Spallanzani experiments and proposed heating of wine before sealing the bottles, now called "Pasteurization." Studied diseases of silkworms, cattle, chickens, and humans. Proposed vaccination of cattle against Anthrax, vaccination against rabies (hydrophobia).
Robert Koch (1843-1910) Developed criteria for testing germ theory (that a particular germ causes a particular disease). Developed use of solid medium for creating pure cultures. Studied Anthrax life cycle and how it survived the frozen winter. Developed test for TB. Showed that cholera was spread by water, that bubonic plague was spread by fleas, sleeping sickness by flies, and malaria by mosquitoes.
Paul Ehrlich (1854-1915) Worked with Koch, developing dyes that could be used to stain bacteria that are otherwise transparent. Realized that because special dyes are absorbed by bacteria but not animal cells, he could create a "magic bullet" by creating a compound of poison and dye. After hundreds of compounds were tested, one was found that killed germ causing sleeping sickness without killing the animal with the disease. This drug also worked against syphilis, much to the annoyance of people who did not approve of curing people with that disease.
Walter Reed (1851-1902)Major Reed found out how yellow fever was spread. He and his doctors volunteered to live in tents with the sheets and buckets of wastes from people who were sick with yellow fever. Human volunteers were used because animals did not get sick from this virus. None of these got sick. However, other volunteers who were bitten by mosquitoes who bit sick patients did get sick. Dr. Jesse Lazar died. Although Reed never found the virus that caused the disease (too small to be seen in microscopes of that day), he proposed fighting mosquitoes to prevent the spread of yellow fever.
Alexander Fleming (1881-1955) Growing deadly staphylococcus, Fleming noticed that penicillium mold accidentally got into his culture and killed the bacteria. The chemical produced by the mold is penicillin, a "wonder drug" that cured many diseases caused by bacteria. Unfortunately, because penicillin was so effective, the Semmelweiss doctrine seemed out of date. Over-use of antibiotics in hospitals combined with careless transmission has created strains of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics that are safe. Hospital spread infections are now one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Now we must use antibiotics that are dangerous to the patient and less effective against the bacteria. Unless this trend is reversed, germs will soon evolve that are immune to antibiotics.