Catching the Bug: Aoife Gets the Flu

This week, Dame Aoife discusses medieval illnesses, especially the flu.

Hello Everyone!

"Medieval 'Flu" is NOT another good excuse to take off work, nor a euphemismfor unexplained illness. Nor is it an excessive desire for perfectly spiffy medieval garb. This links list, Titled "Medieval 'Flu and other Illnesses," is about real communicable illnesses in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and how they were treated (though we'd be hard pressed to actually label any of them legitimately the 'flu from this great distance). In light of the recent furor over the shortage--in the U.S.--of 'Flu Vaccines, I thought a trip through history might be in order, to let us know how bad it was back then. Of course, if you got the flu in the Middle Ages, you might not call it influenza. Perhaps you had a surplus of Choler, suffered from Catarrh, contracted an Ague, or had the Gripes.

No matter what you call it, however, we're still LOTS better off today, when over-the-counter medicines exceed the health care of most medieval patients. I hope you enjoy the following links on Medieval medicines and illnesses, and will feel free to pass it along wherever it will be wellness-received :)

PLEASE remember that if you attempt to use any of the below medical practices or methods, you are on your own as far as results go. This author claims no responsibility if your unusual treatments go awry! As they say all the time on television, "Don't try this at home!" There is no substitute for the advice of a good doctor. Whatever else you may do, PLEASE try the Medieval MD quiz, and see how you'd measure up as a Doctor in the Middle Ages. You might learn something!

Cheers

Aoife

Dame Aoife Finn of Ynos Mon from the stormy Canton of Riverouge
Barony of the Endless Hills,
In Glorias Aethelemarc!

Wickipedia: Medieval Medicine
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medieval_medicine
(Site Excerpt) In the early period there was no single, organized, strand of medieval medicine. Instead someone struck down by injury or disease could turn to folk medicine, prayer, astrology, spells, mysticism, or to an established physician if such were available to him. The boundaries between each profession were loose and movable.

Riverdeep---Bug Medicine
http://www.riverdeep.net/current/2002/03/030402_bugmedicine.jhtml
(Site Excerpt) History is full of home remedies used throughout the centuries. People have been known to slather honey on burns, use black tea as a sort of natural antibiotic, and eat clay. This might sound strange to you, until you realize that white clay is also an ingredient of Kaopectate, a popular antidiarrhea medication in the United States. Chances are that you've eaten clay, too!

Health and Medicine in Medieval England
http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/health_and_medicine_in_medieval_.htm
(Site Excerpt) The cause of the Black Death according to Guy de Chauliac, a French doctor: Three great planets, Saturn, Jupiter and Mars, are all in close position. This took place in 1345. Such a coming together of planets is always a sign of wonderful, terrible or violent things to come.

Stefan's Florilegium
http://www.florilegium.org
Click "Unclassified" (last menu item on left), then "p-medical" to get to the historical medical practices file, where you will find a wealth of information in the form of collected missives on the subject.

National Library of Medicine: Islamic Culture and the Medical Arts
http://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/islamic_medical/islamic_14.html
(Site Excerpt) The hospitals were dependent upon charitable endowments for their maintenance, and with time these funds became insufficient to support them, or, not infrequently, the lands supporting the endowment were confiscated. Consequently, the hospitals tended to deteriorate and eventually fall into disuse, except for a few such as the Nuri hospital in Damascus which continued to operate as a hospital until the end of the 19th century.

Medieval Diseases
http://www.labelle.org/top_diseases.html
(Site Excerpt) Life before the discovery of penicillin, antisepsis, and germ theory necessarily meant that disease was a constant companion of medieval people. Fortunately, from the eighth through the mid-fourteenth centuries Europe was remarkably free from most epidemic diseases.

Misconceptions about Medieval Medicine
http://www.strangehorizons.com/2003/20030317/medicine.shtml
(Site Excerpt) Our stomachs turn at an image of leeches growing fat on the warm blood of the sick; our minds are horrified by the fact that medieval doctors honestly believed the best remedy for a patient might be to open a vein and drain off quarts of precious blood; our hearts ache to think of virulent diseases ravaging bodies while a physician recited incantations or a priest prayed for deliverance of the patient from pain. In the same vein, we are often equally filled with amazement and awe that, despite such revolting medical practices, the human race survived at all to produce such humane and urbane, all-knowing and all-controlling creatures as ourselves.

Mostly Medieval: Medieval Medicine: Commonly Used Medieval Medicinal Plants
http://www.skell.org/explore/plants.htm
This list contains items which are clickable. By clicking on an herb's name you find what herbs were used for and sometimes how they were used.

A General Study of the Plague in England 1539-1640 With a Specific Reference to Loughborough By Ian Jessiman
http://www.loughborough.co.uk/plague/
(Site Excerpt) Throughout the Middle Ages most of populated Britain suffered sweeping ravages of disease and pestilence; individually and collectively these epidemics were referred to as the plague. Examination of the Leicestershire town of Loughborough's Parish Register 1, reveals valuable statistical data, particularly in respect to burials after 1538. The History and Antiquities of the County of Leicester, Vol III part II, by J Nichols 2, offers an insight into some of the social effects of the plague.

Marchione di Coppo Stefani, The Florentine Chronicle Rubric 643: Concerning A Mortality In The City Of Florence In Which Many People Died.
http://jefferson.village.virginia.edu/osheim/marchione.html
(Site Excerpt) In the year of the Lord 1348 there was a very great pestilence in the city and district of Florence. It was of such a fury and so tempestuous that in houses in which it took hold previously healthy servants who took care of the ill died of the same illness. Almost non of the ill survived past the fourth day. Neither physicians nor medicines were effective. Whether because these illnesses were previously unknown or because physicians had not previously studied them, there seemed to be no cure.

What was the Vinegar of Four Thieves? By Chelsie Vandaveer
http://www.killerplants.com/whats-in-a-name/20030718.asp
(Site Excerpt) Legends also abounded over those who survived, in particular, four thieves who robbed the bodies and houses of the dead. The confused legend places the thieves in Marseilles, or Toulouse, or maybe London, on or around the late 1500s, 1628, 1632, or 1722, caught and brought before the mayor, or councilmen, or judges, and sentenced to death. They would be spared if they told the secret for their survival: the Vinegar of Four Thieves.

BBC Schools: Medieval Medicine
http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/history/medicine/medievalmedic... galenrev3.shtml
(Site Excerpt) Leprosy was one of the most feared and terrible diseases of the Middle Ages. Victims of the disease were outcasts from their homes and villages. They were condemned to become beggars, warning people of their approach by the ringing of hand-bells. Lazar houses were built in towns throughout England. These were isolation hospitals where lepers would live a monastic type of life.

Health and Medicine in Medieval England
http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/health_and_medicine_in_medieval_.htm
(Site Excerpt) No one knew what caused diseases then. There was no knowledge of germs. Medieval peasants had been taught by the church that any illness was a punishment from God for sinful behaviour. Therefore, any illness was self-imposed - the result of an individual's behaviour.

The Middle Ages: Health
http://www.learner.org/exhibits/middleages/health.html
(Site Excerpt) There were many myths and superstitions about health and hygiene as there still are today. People believed, for example, that disease was spread by bad odors. It was also assumed that diseases of the body resulted from sins of the soul. Many people sought relief from their ills through meditation, prayer, pilgrimages, and other nonmedical methods.

Medieval MD Quiz
http://www.learner.org/exhibits/middleages/healtact2.html
(Site Excerpt) Here's your chance to try to diagnose and cure patients as if you were a doctor in the Middle Ages. There are three patients for you to cure. Read about their symptoms and then decide what treatment to prescribe. If you like, you can read more about the symptoms and healing methods of the time.

Medieval Sourcebook: Bocaccio's Decameron
http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/boccacio2.html
(Site Excerpt) The onset of the Black Death, was described by Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375). I say, then, that the years of the beatific incarnation of the Son of God had reached the tale of one thousand three hundred and forty eight, when in the illustrious city of Florence, the fairest of all the cities of Italy, there made its appearance that deadly pestilence, which, whether disseminated by the influence of the celestial bodies, or sent upon us mortals by God in His just wrath by way of retribution for our iniquities, had had its origin some years before in the East, whence, after destroying an innumerable multitude of living beings, it had propagated itself without respite from place to place, and so calamitously, had spread into the West.

About.com: Avoid the Plague
http://historymedren.about.com/cs/plagueanddisease/ht/How_Avoid_Plagu.htm
(Site Excerpt) Should you forget to get innoculated before you travel back to the 14th century, you'll need to take some measures to avoid the deadly Bubonic Plague...Once away from all human contact, wash in extremely hot water, change into your clean clothes, and burn the clothes you traveled in. Keep a minimum distance of 25 feet from any other human being to avoid catching any pneumonic form spread through breathing and sneezing. Have your armies burn and raze to the ground any nearby houses where plague victims have resided. Pray to the deity of your choice frequently and fervently. Stay where you are until six months after the most recent nearby outbreak.

ORB: Medical Misconceptions by Bryon Grigsby
http://www.the-orb.net/non_spec/missteps/ch4.html
(Site Excerpt) The two greatest misconceptions about medicine arise primarily from our modern attempts at interpreting the medical system of the Middle Ages. The first misconception is to see medicine in the Middle Ages as an unsophisticated system. Early scholars of medieval medicine found medieval doctors' theories ridiculous when compared to modern ones. Charles Singer, for example, found medieval medicine demonstrative of "the wilting mind of the Dark Ages." <1> Singer also believed that medieval medicine, specifically the Anglo-Saxon herbals, "lacked any rational element which might mark the beginnings of scientific advance."

Teacher's Guide: Plague and Pestilence
http://www.libraryvideo.com/guides/D6841.pdf
(Site Excerpt) Some remedies from the Middle Ages are becoming increasingly popular in the world of modern medicine. As gross as it sounds, the use of leeches is one such treatment that is making a comeback!

Medieval black death not bubonic plague by A'ndrea Elyse Messer
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2002-04/ps-mbd041102.php
(Site Excerpt) "The symptoms of the Black Death included high fevers, fetid breath, coughing, vomiting of blood and foul body odor," says Rebecca Ferrell, graduate student in anthropology. "Other symptoms were red bruising or hemorrhaging of skin and swollen lymph nodes. Many of these symptoms do appear in bubonic plague, but they can appear in many other diseases as well."

Medieval World: Health and Hygiene Links
http://www.geocities.com/Medievalworld/LinksHealth.html

Plague and Public Health in Renaissance Europe
http://jefferson.village.virginia.edu/osheim/intro.html
(Site Excerpt) This project involves the creation of a hypertext archive of narratives, medical consilia, governmental records, religious and spiritual writings and images documenting the arrival, impact and response to the problem of epidemic disease in Western Europe between 1348 and 1530. When completed researchers will be able to follow themes and issues geographically across Europe in any given time period or chronologically from the first cases of bubonic plague in 1348 to the early sixteenth century.

Hippocrates on the Web: The Salerno Book of Health
http://www.umanitoba.ca/faculties/medicine/units/history/salerno/
(Site Excerpt-note that you must hit "next" a few times to cruise past the modern reprint information -of 1920) The Salerne Scholl doth by thefe lines impart/all health to England's King and doth aduife/from care his head to keep, from wrath his heart.

Nova Online: History of Biowarfare
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/bioterror/hist_nf.html
(Site Excerpt) In the 14th and 15th centuries, little was known about how germs cause disease. But according to medieval medical lore, the stench of rotting bodies was known to transmit infections. So when corpses were used as ammunition, they were no doubt intended as biological weapons. Three cases are well-documented..

The Plague Doctor
http://www.historyonthenet.com/Stuarts/plague_doctor.htm
Site lists Supposed cures, how those cures were supposed to work, and what they actually accomplished.