Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Category: Infectious Disease

  • The final illness of Thomas Wolfe

    Thomas Clayton Wolfe was one of the most important American novelists and short story writers of the early 20th century. When he died as a young man in 1938, he joined the long list of literati victims of the dreaded “captain of these men of death”—John Keats, Percy Shelley, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Louis Stevenson,…

  • The seventeenth-century plague doctor’s hazmat suit

    Howard FischerUppsala, Sweden “There are plagues, and there are victims, and it is the duty of good men not to join forces with the plagues.”– Albert Camus, The Plague The plague (later called “the black death”) reached Europe from eastern Russia in 1346. By the time the epidemic ended in 1352, one-third of Europe’s population…

  • Infectious mononucleosis

    The disease known colloquially as “mono” or the “kissing disease” has probably been around since antiquity but was only recognized more recently. In 1880 Nil Filatov, a Russian pediatrician, described it as “idiopathic adenitis”. In 1888 Emil Pfeiffer reported it as an acute benign illness with characteristic lymphadenopathy in children and called it glandular fever…

  • Sporozoites: The elusive assassins

    Jayant RadhakrishnanChicago, Illinois, United States Almost 5,000 years ago, the Chinese described a disease that presented with intermittent fevers, enlarged spleens, and a predilection to epidemics. Those malarial infections were possibly caused by Plasmodium vivax (P. vivax) since P. malariae is unlikely to cause epidemics. The Chinese did not mention mortality following these symptoms; therefore,…

  • The history of scarlet fever

    Scarlet fever is a highly contagious infectious disease that probably has existed for thousands of years. Ancient texts from China and other parts of the world have described symptoms resembling those of scarlet fever. In the 5th century BC, Hippocrates documented a patient with a reddened skin and fever. Centuries later, in 1553, the Sicilian…

  • The problem with drinking (water) on airplanes

    Howard FischerUppsala, Sweden “Water, water everywhere/Nor any drop to drink.”– The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834) In the year 2020, 4.5 billion people flew on commercial aircraft. The previous year saw US airlines carry over 900 million passengers, and only 13% of Americans had never flown on a plane.1 Water is…

  • Dr. Gerhard Hansen – A great discoverer

    Howard FischerUppsala, Sweden “No great discovery was ever made without a bold guess.”– Isaac Newton Leprosy, from the Greek lepis, meaning scaly, has been known since antiquity. The disease was widespread in continental Europe and in Scandinavia, reaching its peak prevalence in the twelfth century.1 Leprosy was well established in Ireland in the tenth century.…

  • Quinine and global health

    Diego AndradeStalin Santiago CeliQuito, Ecuador Quinine is considered to be one of the most important medical discoveries historically, as it marked the first successful use of a chemical compound to treat malaria. Malaria is an acute febrile disease caused by Plasmodium parasites, which are transmitted through the bites of female Anopheles mosquitoes.1 Without treatment, the…

  • Fossilized tick-borne diseases

    José de la FuenteCiudad Real, Spain Ticks and tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease and alpha-gal syndrome are a growing burden for human health worldwide.1-3 Alpha-gal syndrome is an emerging allergy associated with tick bites and mammalian meat consumption. It is a potentially life-threatening immunoglobulin E (IgE)-mediated reaction to galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose (alpha-gal), which is present in…

  • BCG: The vaccine that took thirteen years to develop

    Howard Fischer Uppsala, Sweden   Early French advertisement for BCG (“BCG Protects Against Tuberculosis”). Retouched crop of photo by Rathfelder on Wikimedia. CC BY-SA 4.0.  “Perseverance, secret of all triumphs.” – Victor Hugo   Tuberculosis of the lungs (“consumption”) was one of the two main causes of death (along with pneumonia) at the start of…