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At the beginning of the 19th century a population census was performed
and later, in 1837, it became law that all births and deaths were
registered. "Medical officers of health" kept the records and each
local administration employed one. They forwarded their findings to
the government each year. This meant that every time a person died we
would be able to learn key information about their death; cause, age
of victim and gender. This is great for historians because it allows
us to see exactly what was happening at the time, for example, if a
certain disease was a greater killer then another.
Cholera and Influenza were most likely the biggest killers of the 19th
century, with 3 major cholera epidemics (in 1832, 1848 and 1866) and
regular flu epidemics. Cholera affected all ages and was contracted
from contaminated water. Influenza affected all ages, especially the
weak, and spread through the tiny droplets of moisture in the nose
produced from sneezing or coughing.
Tuberculosis was one of the worst diseases, it infected when the
bacteria spread in the moisture produced when coughing, and affected
all ages. TB affected 15% of the population in the 19th century.
Typhoid was another disease that attacked all ages; it was introduced
into people when they came into contact with excreta (urine, faeces,
and sweat) from a human.
Smallpox had been a major killer of all ages but by 1850 it was
gradually being eliminated through vaccination. This shows the work of
an INDIVIDUAL, Edward Jenner who created the smallpox vaccine, because
he was the success story of eradicating smallpox. In 1840 the vaccine
was made free for infants and compulsory in 1853. Measles was
attacking children, some overcame the disease but often it could
develop into a more serious problem, like pneumonia, severe diarrhoea
or encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).
Lung infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia were common; they
attacked peopled weakened by other infections. People became so
vulnerable to these diseases because they were poor, uneducated about
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conditions. The people were so poor they could not afford doctors, or
care, but the GOVERNMENT was being lazy and ignorant towards public
health. However, in the late 19th century, 1875, the second Public
Health Act was passed and this was much more effective then the first
because it forced local councils to act on public health. The
Artisans' Dwellings Act was also passed and this enforced purchase of
slum housing and rebuilding to better living standards by local
councils (unfortunately the act was seldom used).
People were also becoming more aware and through OBSERVATION learnt
how to overcome certain illnesses. For example, the connection between
contaminated water and cholera was discovered by John Snow, in 1854.
He noticed that all the victims of a cholera outbreak in London used
the same water pump so he decided to remove the pump handle to see if
it had any affect - the outbreak ended.