3 Events That Changed Hygiene Forever
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world has become diligent about social distancing, working from home and avoiding handshakes. Many of us probably also wash our hands more frequently than ever before – one sure sign of the sharply increased importance now attached to hygiene.
However, the current public health crisis is hardly the first in world history that has dramatically changed the way people think about sanitation. Here are just some examples of significant past events that have doubtless left a lasting impact on how we keep ourselves clean.
The Black Death
When you think of the Black Death, or “the plague”, you probably picture boarded-up doors marked with red crosses, or the horror film-style attire of a cloak and mask as worn by a plague doctor. Bubonic plague was responsible for some of the earliest documented pandemics.
The plague is first known to have struck throughout Eurasia in 542 CE. However, the name “Black Death” is reserved for the second plague pandemic that lasted from 1347 until the late 17th century, along the way causing an estimated 100 million deaths in areas including Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
Overall, almost a quarter of the world’s population is thought to have perished, says the Oxford University Press. In the 15th century, many local governments started more rigorously engaging in street cleaning, disposing of dead bodies and carcasses and maintaining water hygiene.
By the 18th century, cities emphasised the importance of such preventive measures as improving ventilation, draining stagnant water and cleaning wells for tackling the risk of epidemic disease emerging.
Nonetheless, the cause of bubonic plague remained unclear as late as 1799, when the plague threatened Napoleon’s army in Jaffa. That cause – fleas feeding on plague-infested rats or other rodent species before feeding on humans – remained unknown for another hundred years, Montana State University reports.
Cholera epidemic of 1854
The lax hygiene responsible for plague outbreaks has also, over the centuries, contributed to the emergence of various other diseases – like smallpox, typhus and tuberculosis, all of which were endemic in early Victorian Britain. Death rates from such conditions were especially high in cities, where many living spaces were both overcrowded and poorly sanitised – creating the ideal environments for disease to fester.
Though the Public Health Act of 1848 was set up to investigate sanitary conditions, the physician John Snow had an especially significant lightbulb moment as a result of the cholera epidemic of 1854. Having also lived through the cholera outbreaks of 1832 and 1848, he was convinced that cholera was a water-borne disease.
He conclusively proved this theory’s validity by mapping out cholera cases in the central London area of Soho and tracing the outbreak’s origin to a single contaminated well. Once the pump’s handle was removed, the epidemic subsided, as the BBC notes.
Snow also found that households buying water from companies sourcing it from the River Thames downstream – once many sewers had flowed in – were seeing a 14 times higher death rate than those households purchasing from companies that drew the water upstream. This research led Snow to advise that water ought to be boiled before use.
It’s difficult to find many silver linings to the current crisis – though one positive effect in the long run could be deterring households from treating hand washing as an afterthought. However, soap isn’t the only thing you could place at your disposal for the future, as hand sanitizer would be a very viable option, too.
We shouldn’t be surprised to see hand sanitizer products increasingly put on display in the likes of offices and public spaces. “For example, sanitizers would be placed at reception or outside interview rooms to make sure candidates’ hands are clean,” CJ Xia, a VP of marketing and sales at Boster Biological Technology, has suggested in words quoted by Reader’s Digest.
Xia adds: “We would see sanitizers at the table of interviewers as well. It would no longer be rare. By placing such products around, everyone would be signalling to other people that their hands are clean.”
Of course, though, it’s hardly just in a corporate context that you would be well-advised to stay hygiene-conscious. You could quickly but effectively sanitise various surfaces of your home by using our super-absorbent sponge BLOC, which comprises two layers of foam.
One layer, the blue side, can be used to apply and lather up soap – and then you could switch to the yellow, absorbent side to wipe away the soap suds, leaving the treated surface looking immaculate.