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How the Understanding of Infectious Diseases Changed in the 1900s

How the Understanding of Infectious Diseases Changed in the 1900s

Sample Answer 

How the Understanding of Infectious Diseases Changed in the 1900s

There has been a significant drop in mortality rates caused by infectious diseases since the 20th century. Much of this drop is a result of the revolutionary changes in the understanding of infectious diseases that occurred in the 1900s. Before infectious diseases were well-researched, numerous epidemics and plagues killed millions of people. After scientists started studying these diseases, they developed medicines and vaccines to prevent and manage the effects of the illnesses. This essay evaluates the changes that occurred in the 1900s, leading to a better understanding of infectious diseases.

During the 19th century, several events promoted the spread of infectious diseases. One major factor that affected public health at the time was the high migration rate of countries to cities (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1999). This led to overcrowding of people in some places. With no proper water supply and inadequate waste disposal systems, the result was an increase in the outbreak of infectious conditions. Some of the common outbreaks included Tuberculosis (TB), Cholera, typhoid, influenza, malaria, dysentery, and yellow fever (CDC, 1999). This increased the need to improve public health by better understanding infectious diseases.

In the 1900s, several states started setting up health departments to deal with the various infectious illnesses that were threatening the country’s public health. Between 40 and 45 states had set up their health departments by 1908. There were also country-wide efforts to deal with this problem. In 1901, the Sundry Civil Appropriation Act approved the opening of the first lab that was specifically made to investigate infectious diseases. The 1902 amendment of the same act provided guidelines for the management of the Hygienic Laboratory (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2010). This laboratory was specifically made to investigate and manage infectious diseases that were causing epidemics at the time. In 1902, the Hygienic Laboratory was also made into a regulatory body that would control the standards for producing and administering antitoxins and vaccines meant for the human body (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2010). These changes marked the beginning of the government’s focus on controlling contagious diseases.

The next big change was the promotion of a National Department of Health to properly manage the issues affecting the quality of health in the country. The focus on developing national health was mainly the work of The Committee of One Hundred, which campaigned between 1906 and 1912 for the government to establish a country-wide health department to promote public health (Rosen, 1972). In 1912, a law was established to change the U.S. Public Health and Marine Hospital Service to ‘Public Health Service, thus, establishing the first-ever national public health department (Rosen, 1972). At the same time, the staff of the Hygienic Laboratory was increasing, with over 15 scientists helping to research infectious diseases. They received a maintenance appropriation of $15,000 to help with the studies.

In 1918, the world was hit by the “Spanish Influenza” pandemic that ended up killing millions of people across the world. During the pandemic, the Hygienic Laboratory continued to work on ways to understand the influenza infection and find ways to suppress it (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2010). They made little progress on the influenza virus, but their work helped them find new ways of dealing with other infectious diseases. For instance, they found that the troops’ shaving brushes were a source of anthrax and tetanus. They also found new ways to administer smallpox vaccinations in a way that was better and more effective (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2010).

In 1922, the leaders of the Hygienic Laboratory started campaigns to be given more resources to research more infectious diseases affecting the country. They wanted to study basic and applied biomedical research to understand infectious diseases. At the time, investigative science was mainly the property of universities and some private organizations. The Hygienic Laboratory campaigns bore some fruit leading to the increase of their resource appropriation to $50,000 and an increase of the staff to 117, including 46 scientists by 1925 (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2010). This facilitates improved research on infectious diseases leading to new discoveries that have helped to control these infections.

In conclusion, the quality of public health in America has come a long way. Before the 1900s, the country was plagued with numerous epidemics of infectious diseases that killed large populations of people in short periods of time. In the 1900s, the government started paying more attention to research and development relating to infectious diseases by establishing the Hygienic Laboratory and later the department of health. This equipped the government with resources for better research to improve the understanding of infections.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (1999). Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Achievements in Public Health, 1900–1999. 48(29), 621-648

Rosen, G. (1972). Public Health: Then and Now: The Committee of One Hundred on National Health and the Campaign for a National Health Department, 1906-1912. American journal of public health62(2), 261-263.

U.S. National Library of Medicine (2010). Origins of the National Institutes of Health: The 1900s bring change. Retrieved from:


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How the Understanding of Infectious Diseases Changed in the 1900s

In what ways did the understanding of infectious diseases change in the 1900s? Research this question and provide specific historical examples that led to this change in understanding.

How the Understanding of Infectious Diseases Changed in the 1900s

How the Understanding of Infectious Diseases Changed in the 1900s

Your paper should be a minimum of 750 words and follow current APA guidelines.

Your paper must be written in your own words. Any quoted or paraphrased material must follow APA guidelines for inline citations and Works Cited.

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