Scurvy, Vaccination and Hospitals

As this week saw the celebration of International Nurses day, on 12th May, this weeks blog takes a look at some medical history. During the 18th Century there were many innovations in medicine and many hospitals were founded. To start off with today we look at scurvy.

In 1747 a Scottish surgeon, James Lind, conducted one of the first controlled clinical trials in medical history on board the HMS Salisbury. Here he concluded that citrus juice was a more effective treatment for scurvy than five other standard treatments, from seawater to laxatives. While there was nothing new about Linds discovery – the benefits of lime juice had been known for centuries – Lind managed to establish the superiority of citrus fruits above all other remedies. Lind published his finding in 1753 in ‘A Treatise on the Scurvy’ but his evidence was largely ignored during his lifetime; indeed it was not until more than 40 years later that an official Admiralty order was issued on the supply of lemon juice to ships. With this, scurvy disappeared almost completely from the Royal Navy.

Citrus fruits perfect for treating Scurvy


Meanwhile in 1796 a man named Edward Jenner realised that milkmaids who caught cowpox were immune to smallpox and invented the modern form of vaccination, though no one really knew then exactly how the process worked. Patients were cut and then matter from a cowpox pustule was introduced and this allowed the patient to gain immunity to smallpox. Up until the introduction of vaccination the main way of combatting smallpox was inoculation. This involved provoking a mild form of the disease which would then provide lifelong immunity for the person.  Inoculation was likely practiced in Africa, India, and China long before the 18th century, when it was introduced to Europe. Jenner’s vaccination system however, was safer and more effective than inoculation and was made compulsory in 1893. This early form of vaccination eventually led to smallpox’s eradication in 1979 and thus smallpox is no longer part of the standard vaccinations we receive today.

Modern day Smallpox vaccine


As we said earlier there were also many hospitals founded during the 18th Century, included Guy’s hospital in 1724.Guy’s hospital was founded with a bequest from a merchant named Thomas Guy who had been successful on the Stock Market during the `South Sea Bubble’ Crash of 1720. Guy invested much of his new wealth into the hospital, which he began building in 1721. Unfortunately, three years later (at the age of 80), Thomas Guy died before the first patients were admitted. Guy’s Hospital eventually opened in 1726 with 100 beds and a staff of 51.

M0003348 Guy's Hospital, Southwark: an aerial view, with smaller scen
Guy’s Hospital

Also founded in the 18th Century was Middlesex hospital in 1745. Founded by twenty benefactors, it consisted of 15 beds in two houses, Nos. 8-10 Windmill Street. In 1747, it was the first hospital in England to provide ‘lying-in’ beds for pregnant women and a sign was placed at the end of the street stating ‘The Middlesex Hospital for Sick and Lame and Lying-In Married Women’. There were also hospitals founded in Bristol in 1733, York in 1740, Exeter in 1741 and Liverpool in 1745 making the 18th Century a very popular time for hospitals and medicine.

We hope you enjoyed this look into 18th Century medicine and as always please like, share, comment, tweet and we’ll keep hunting down more interesting stories to share with you.

All the best, K & D









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