WI: Contagion Theory "Discovered" Earlier

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by JonasResende, Jun 19, 2019.

  1. JonasResende Well-Known Member

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    So, @SeaCambrian posted this as a DBWI some months ago (bold emphases mine where I adjusted the original post), and I've found myself thinking about the possible effects of Von Plenciz's book/theory gaining wider prominence.

    How would this affect how medicine develops? What significant changes could we see? Are there people who died OTL that could've been saved had Plenciz's theory been accepted? How would it affect warfare (since medicine and warfare are sort of bound up together and a war can lead to medical knowledge - as well as technology - advancing by leaps and bounds simply because it has to)?
     
  2. Fabius Maximus Unus qui nobis cunctando restituit rem

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    The obvious difference would be fewer men dying of disease (which made up most of the casualties IOTL -- IIRC the first war in which combat deaths outnumbered deaths from disease was either the Boer War or WW1, can't remember which). I'm not sure what effects this would have, though -- maybe with warfare being less of a drain on manpower, states would be readier to go to war?
     
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  3. sloreck Grunt Bear

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    In order for this to have a significant impact you'll need to come up with the idea of antisepsis 100 years earlier. Cleanliness, hand washing, and various antiseptic solutions had been kicking around for a while before Semmelweiss wrote about handwashing to prevent the spread of puerperal fever in the 1850s, and Lister published his paper on antisepsis (in treating open tibial fractures) in the Lancet in 1867, on top of pasteur's studies on bacteria in late 1850s/early 1860s. Technically the pre-antibiotic improvements in terms of sanitation, handwashing, antisepsis in surgery, and basic bacteriology are possible 100 years earlier. A limitation will be the quality and power of microscopes, and the undeveloped state of chemistry for reliably producing various antiseptics. Another issue is anesthesia, absent anesthesia (ether/1840s, chloroform/1850s), surgery is a real rush job (literally), although preoperative cleansing and hand washing would help proper technique with an awake patient is difficult.

    FWIW the first modern conflict where you can reliably state more deaths from enemy action than disease was the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 where the North German Confederation achieved this. Not, however, the French. The British medical experience in the Boer War was appalling, with a lot of preventable deaths from disease.
     
  4. GeographyDude Well-Known Member

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    Good topic, but convoluted lead in.

    Might almost prefer fresh start.
     
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  5. GeographyDude Well-Known Member

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    I'll take it! :)

    And if microbiology becomes viewed as an important field decades earlier, with a lot more people looking through microscopes and coming up with clever studies, then just maybe . . . "hmm, this crazy mold seems to inhibit bacterial growth, that's curious"
     
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  6. JonasResende Well-Known Member

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    Think it was the Franco-Prussian, but I'm not sure.

    This is problematic, I agree. I mean, I read about some guy in the 1750s who underwent eye-surgery sans anaesthesia and I had nightmares about it. Sounded almost like a sort of torture. However,
    My apologies for that.

    It's not impossible, to my mind, but I'm not a medical practitioner, so I don't know how likely it is.
     
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  7. GeographyDude Well-Known Member

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    I mean, look at portrait painting in the Middle Ages, shipbuilding, Galileo with his telescopes.

    I think considerably earlier microbiology is a live possibility.
     
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  8. sloreck Grunt Bear

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    You should not conflate "contagion theory" and "microbiology". "Contagion" as such was known for a long time, hence quarantines because they knew disease could be "brought" by one group of sick folks and make people in the new locations sick with the same disease. How this happened was unknown, there were lots of theories but the idea that invisible living beings did this (bacteria) was really not out there. Leeuwenhoek (Dutch, 17th century) designed his own microscope and identified single cell organisms and other microscopic phenomenon in the 1670s - but not bacteria. Part of the problem is the technology to make glass that can be ground in to the proper lenses. Glass had been made for a long time, however making crystal clear glass without inclusions that can be ground to make lenses is another story. For a telescope used to see far away objects on earth, you can tolerate glass with a fair amount of chromatic aberration. You need to get rid of most of this for astronomic observation, and pretty much all of it for microscopy. Once you do this, you need to develop staining techniques for bacteria.

    The combination of theoretical thinking, a number of different technologies, as well as proper experiments has to all happen together. Could it have happened sooner, sure but not a lot sooner. There are a lot of moving parts not mentioned that have to happen as well.
     
  9. JonasResende Well-Known Member

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    My apologies regarding confusion between microbiology versus contagion.

    As to the moving parts, fair enough. As said, not a medical practitioner/expert though.
     
  10. GeographyDude Well-Known Member

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    I say, let’s test this engine!

    For example, aren’t there some disease-causing bacteria quite a bit larger than average, that even with a crappy lense might appear fuzzy?

    Or, the malaria plasmodium during certain states of its life cycle?
     
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2019
  11. sloreck Grunt Bear

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    Sorry to rain on your parade but the bacteria won't be readily identified, and plasmodia may be seen, although proper staining is also needed, and plasmodia as the cause of malaria was not discovered until the 1870s. Even if you saw a bacterium, it would have no meaning...
     
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  12. GeographyDude Well-Known Member

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  13. unprincipled peter Well-Known Member

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    considering that the accepted theories were based on a whole lot of witchcraft-like thinking, limited technology shouldn't be a roadblock. We currently theorize, and accept, that some things (sub atomic particles, for example) exist because we can measure a result. So, it isn't necessary to see a germ. What was needed was an atmosphere conducive to experimentation, and a willingness to analyze and accept results. an earlier technological revolution. the TRs are mindset driven, not technological.

    Even if the exact details weren't known, or accepted, it is surprising that basic hygiene/sanitation didn't evolve sooner, thus achieving some of the benefits. The miasma theory, widely accepted, should have dictated higher levels of hygiene.

    Also necessary is knowledge network. Just as the world 'shrank' with advancing locomotion, so too did the scientific world expand with increased communication. Look how long it took for smallpox vaccination/inoculation to become widespread. The Hapsburgs were dying in droves decades after the English saved their royals.
     
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  14. Anawrahta Well-Known Member

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    Apicomplexans are just a fascinating group of Alveolates. I find it odd they're more closely related to Brown Algae than to say slime molds.
     
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  15. GeographyDude Well-Known Member

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    Please tell me a little more. :) And assume I’m a nuclear physicist.

    That is, make the working assumption that I’m just as smart as you are, or even slightly smarter (which might entirely be fiction of course! ;)), but it just isn’t my field. I just need it explained in straightforward fashion.
     
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  16. sloreck Grunt Bear

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    The Romans had better sanitation and hygiene, however they had no sensible/real theory of disease. In other words no germ theory. BTW the miasmatic theory will not necessarily lead to better hygiene measures, it most assuredly did not OTL. The scientific method or experimental method came around in the 16th-18th centuries in bits, and also you needed to develop the math of basic statistics to determine whether or not results really mean anything. This is a concept folks today, in general, totally fail to grasp. There are a ton of things that have to happen, "mental" as well as "technological". Of course when the folks who are in charge of your religion, and that religion (whatever it is) has a big say in running things and they say that disease is from the guy(s) in the sky as punishment for sin/not listening to the religion guys, raising your hand and saying "no really sickness comes from these almost invisible little things" is not going to end well for you.
     
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  17. GeographyDude Well-Known Member

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    [​IMG]
    Rings of P. falciparum in a thick blood smear.

    —> P. falciparum is the most serious of the four strains of malaria.

    If you have an even fuzzier microscope, how much of this can you realistically puzzle out?

    https://www.cdc.gov/dpdx/malaria/index.html
    open “Image Gallery” toward bottom of cell phone page
     
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2019 at 5:16 PM
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  18. suul'ken Well-Known Member

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    What would have happened if contagion theory has been somehow known since the ancient times?
     
  19. sloreck Grunt Bear

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    Contagion was known, say it again. Folks knew that diseases could be passed from one sick person to a healthy person. The problem is they had no clue about what and how. Some diseases, like malaria, require the intermediate host (mosquitoes), some can be passed directly from person to person (think the common cold or tuberculosis), there are other modes. Folks figured out rather quickly about venereal diseases like gonorrhea and syphilis being passed through sex, however this did not explain how/why. The basic "theory" that needed to be elucidated was the germ theory which said that diseases were caused by bacteria, subsequently parasites and viruses.
     
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