Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Tag: infectious disease

  • 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…

  • 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…

  • Sanitariums as cure for consumption

    The institutions variously called sanitariums (from sanare, “to cure”) or sanitariums (from sanitas, meaning “health”) became all the rage around 1850. They were especially popular with the upper classes, as exemplified in Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain by the young Hans Castorp, who decides to spend a few days with a friend at a Swiss…

  • Book review: Foreign Bodies: Pandemics, Vaccines and the Health of Nations

    Arpan K. Banerjee Solihull, United Kingdom   Cover of Foreign Bodies: Pandemics, Vaccines and the Health of Nations by Simon Schama Simon Schama, the eminent historian and broadcaster, has turned his attention to medical history. His new book, gestated and born during the COVID pandemic, is a chronicle of three pandemic diseases that have afflicted…

  • Gain of function

    Jayant Radhakrishnan Darien, Illinois, United States   “It is no good to try to stop knowledge from going forward. Ignorance is never better than knowledge.” – Enrico Fermi (1901–1954)   SARS-CoV-2 virus anatomy with proteins labeled. Created by Maya Peters Kostman for the Innovative Genomics Institute. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. “Gain of Function” (GoF) burst into…