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Chapter 11 : The Plague Protectors
Secular medicine, which developed in parallel to the religious approach, is usually dated from the time of the Greeks in the fifth century BC and most often is personified by the physician Hippocrates of Cos. Hippocrates, often regarded as the father of modern medicine, believed there was a rational basis for disease. His theory on the mechanism of disease was based on an imbalance in the body of the four humors (fluids). The majority of people were treated by the literate clergy, especially the monks (who became physicians), women who were acquainted with medicinal plants, and lay surgeons who treated wounds. By 1918, few “old guard Listerians” still believed in antiseptic surgery. At this time (and even before), surgery was an unsafe practice because control of infection (by asepsis and antisepsis) and anesthesia were unknown. Sanitation, antisepsis, asepsis, and anesthesia prevented disease from needlessly destroying human life, but perhaps the most important point of these advances in health and medicine was their influence on the social climate and the greater acceptance and recognition of scientific truths. A review of how one of the more recent antibiotics, sulfa drugs, was discovered shows how its development was linked to aniline dyes. In concert with improvements in immunization, these plague protectors—imperfect as they were and as they continue to be—benefited the health of many people, but regrettably not all of humankind.