Public healthPublic health or Public Health, generally refers to a function of government in the prevention or spread of disease among its population through the use of public education, regulations, epidemiology, and statistical tools. It promotes not simply the absence of disease but mental, physical, and emotional well-being. In many ways, it is largely a modern concept, although it has roots in antiquity.
In order for public health policies and programs to develop, it was necessary for governments to gain some understanding of the causes of disease. Early on, it was recognized that polluted water and lack of proper waste disposal were implicated in spreading vector-borne diseases. By Roman times, it was well-understood that proper diversion of human waste was a necessary tenet of public health in urban areas.
The Chinese developed the practice of variolation following a smallpox epidemic around 1,000 B.C. Inhaling the dried crusts of lesions or later, innoculation of a scratch on the forearms of chidren with the pus from a lesion. This practice was not documented in the West until the early 1700's and was utilized on a very limited basis. The practice of vaccination did not become prevalent until the 1820's, following the work of Edward Jenner.
During the 14th century Black Death in Europe, it was believed that removing the bodies would prevent further spread of the disease. Unfortunately, this did little to stem the plague, which was spread by rodent-borne fleas. Burning areas of cities resulted in much greater benefit, since it removed the rodent infestations.
The science of epidemiology was founded by John Snow's identification of a polluted public water well as the cause of an 1854 cholera outbreak in London. John believed in the germ theory of disease as opposed to the prevailing miasma theory, which taught correctly that disease was a result of poor sanitation, but was based only upon the prevailing theory of spontaneous generation. This was the case, even though Redi showed in the 17th century that fly eggs were required for maggots to be generated in dung heaps and Lazzaro Spallanzani, in 1768, proved that microbes came from the air, and that regeneration could be prevented by boiling in a hermetically sealed container.
Microorganisms were first observed around 1680 by Anton van Leeuwenhoek, but it was not until the 1880's, that the culmination of the germ theory of Robert Koch and Louis_Pasteur and the production of artificial vaccines, revolutionized the study of infectious disease and introduced the modern era of public health.
Now most governments recognize the importance of public health programs in reducing the incidence of disease, disability, and the effects of aging. Public health programs providing vaccinations have in recent years have successfully all but eradicated smallpox. Certainly, one of the most important public health issues of the present is that of AIDS.
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