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Public Health in 1665

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“Ring around a roses,
A pocket full of Poses,
A tissue!
A tissue!
We all fall down!”

Even today, children innocently chant this old nursery rhyme, bringing the old saying into reality, “Ignorance is Bliss”. It’s eerie, to think that this old rhyme in fact gives a perfect description of one of Europe’s worst nightmares, the Great Plague. Many people forget the horrors of the Plague, and when they do remember and think about it, Public heath is rarely a factor that plays a big part when people start to think things through.

There were quite a few public health measures in 1665 – the time of the plague. However, how many of these measures worked?

An important fact to remember is that in those times, opinions and actions were either based on or blamed on religion and superstition. For example, people started marching across the country, punishing themselves on the basis that the plague was the result of all of man’s sin, whilst trying to persuade people of their cause. Also, charms were used by some cultures, such as the “Abra Kadabra” charm, which was either carved, or worn as protective jewellery to ward off the evil spirits causing the plague. It looked similar to the image below.

A B R A K A D A B R A
B R A K A D A B R
R A K A D A B
A K A D A
K A D
A

One measure they had was that of the “red cross”. This is where they would paint a red cross on the doors of people who were diagnosed with the plague. I think this would have worked because it would let people know who had the plague, so that they could avoid falling ill themselves.

A law was made, saying that once someone was ill with the plague they were to stay in their house. Anyone who happened to live in the same house as the unfortunate soul was also locked in, with fear that they could spread the disease. Beggars were not allowed to wonder the streets at anytime, and were executed immediately for doing so without a given reason. All of these, although sensible ideas (apart from the execution..) would not contribute towards public health, as the disease was not contagious in the human community. It was in fact passed on from fleas living on black rats, but this knowledge had not yet been developed. If someone was bitten by this flea, then their life expectancy from that moment would be between 23-29 days.

Examiners were appointed by people of high medical authority. It would be their task of travelling around England, checking to see who had the plague, and ensuring that the correct orders were being fulfilled by the town. I think that this would have helped to make things more organized, which on the whole would make a big difference, because people would be aware of which towns to avoid.

However negative my views on the Public Health situation in 1665 might sound, I would hate for anybody to get the idea that the medical procedures and scientific methods were completely useless. Although very strict with laws, crime and punishment, the government took pride in being organized. They took this to the point of searching bodies, apparently to ensure everyone was dead before burial. One conspiracy is that they were in actual fact looking for valuables that could be useful, or else sold for a great profit. Despite their unintentional propaganda, many citizens were buried alive, simply because there was no known cure for the disease. Now, in the process of this, the corpses were counted, and accurate records were taken of the plague victims. This was effective in positive ways, because it encouraged the government to be more efficient when it came to statistics.

All in all, the public health measures in action throughout the plague did indeed work, and were effective in both positive and negative ways.

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