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"Atmosphere in relation to disease [general miasmatism]"

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Journal of Public Health, and Sanitary Review
(December 1855): 351-59

PDF from photocopy, courtesy of the U. S. National Library of Medicine.

"That health depends on changes of the weather, is a household aphorism, coeval with the earliest traditions. Hippocrates gave a large share of his attention to this circumstance; . . . At present, the inquiry is receiving an attention still more minute and exact than the physician of Cos had it in his power to bestow upon it. He knew nothing of the barometer and thermometer; of the composition of the sun's rays; of polarized light' of electricity and magnetism; or of the chemical mixture of the atmosphere with which we are surrounded, and which we breathe; . . . .

. . . . .

Every one, who has paid any attention to the subject, must be acquainted with the classification of clouds, viz., the cirrus, cumulus, and stratus, with their several subordinate combinations. It is not our present intention to enlarge upon these well known forms of vapour, but only to say a few words on one or two of their peculiarities relating to hygiene" (351).

. . . . . .

"It is in damp weather that dyspepsia chiefly prevails--the acid indigestion of gouty habits and valetudinarians, the scrofulous, the indolent, and the pitiable host of 'never-wells.' Exercise and manual labour in the open air is the legitimate panacea" (356).

. . . . . .

"During the prevalence of cholera, the cirrus cloud is rare; but the cirro-strati, which occupy a lower stratum of the atmosphere, are frequewnt at noon, and accompany the sun for three or four hours in his meridian height. Occasionally, black smoky looking cumuli (negatively electric?) float up from the N.W. A calm prevails. Indolent cirro-cumuli lodge over the hills: The distance is dim, and a sticky vapour, charged with small black flies, pervades everything. The barometer stands obstinately at 30 inches, and the wind is from the N.W. or S.E. During the cholera of 1564, the wind was from the S.E. to N.W.; and so it was in 1832 and 1849" (357). [The last sentence in this paragraph confirms Hingeston as a loyal follower of Thomas Sydenham's notion that every communicable disease has a unique epidemic constitution; Hingeston is suggesting the atmospheric factors in cholera's epidemic constitution. The parallel he finds between epidemic cholera in 1564 (one that Sydenham described) and cholera epidemics in England in 1832 and 1849 show that he believed that Asiatic cholera was a variation of traditional English cholera, not a new and distinct disease. This view is a signature characteristic of general,non-contagious miasmatism.]

. . . . .

"We have some facts to show cause why we should connect disease with the greater or less amount of electricity, signified by the electrometer. It would seem that, in the non-electric states of the air, diseases of a low type prevail. Thus, in the Registrar-General's return for the week ending July 14th, 1855, we find it stated, at p. 232, 'weak positive electricity throughout the week'" and, on referring to the mortality of the same date, at p. 225, it is there [357/358] recorded, that the chief deaths were from small-pox, hooping-cough, scarlatina, diarrhoea, and typhus. . . . During the prevalence of Asiatic cholera, the electricity is weak, or nothing: thus, . . ." [see PDF for remainder of this argument].

Also in the same volume, there was an article that surveyed "Epidemics of Europe and western Asia, previous to the era of Hippocrates." The author clarified his meaning of epidemics: "Epidemic diseases, being essentially acute, and running rapidly through their stages, require not only that we should be prepared promptly to relieve those who are attacked, but also that we should be enabled by prophylactic measures to prevent the healthy from being affected. The knowledge, necessary for the accomplishment of this object, can only be acquired by an unprejudiced investigation of the atmospheric influences resulting from meteorological changes; of the endless variety in the circumstances of social life; and, in short, of all that is known of the laws by which epidemic visitations are governed, the causes whence they arise, and the conditions under which they are propagated" (42).

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