Hygiene during the Salem Witch Trials

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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The European American Exchange of infectious diseases was responsible for the demographic havoc of the native population in the New World after 1492. In America, before Europeans arrived, there were no record of any human viral diseases, though there were records of rickettsiasis, pinta, yaws and syphilis. Sailors were contaminated by yaws and spread this disease into Europe. In late 1400s, influenza was introduced into Santa Domingo which had been responsible for the annihilation of the natives of the Antilles in less than a quarter of a century. Small pox was also introduced in Santo Domingo and then later to the American continent by slaves. Illnesses and diseases were a riddle in the 17th century. Doctors were puzzled and did not have a clear understanding of small organisms or how diseases were transmitted. Due to the lack of knowledge about diseases in the 17th century, this left a major impact on the century causing uproar of outbreaks.

Deadliest diseases of the time were small pox, yellow fever, measles and flu. Many people would curse the discovery of America due to the chaos a century later of over a million people dying over diseases. The flu became introduced from horses and others, which had a major impact due to the fact that voyagers would send them on ships to others. A third of 1500 Spaniards had died within a few days of coming in close contact with the disease, Indians had fallen later due to the same fact. Observations due to epidemics teaches that some with excessive death could be due to the fact of animal viruses. Endemic diseases such as measles and small pox cause more of an impact than most. Symptoms of small pox were high fever, intense skin rashes, headaches and fatigue. Small pox increased in the American continent over time causing many Indians to die of the illness decreasing their population. Survivors would end up possibly blind and ending up with disfiguring scars. Small pox had spread faster than the Spaniards to South America and was transmitted by Indians themselves by sea travel. There were many small pox outbreaks during the colonial diseases and until the identification of the flu epidemic, it was considered the great killer of the Indians, also very susceptible to toddlers and infants. In 17th century, a curing vaccine for small pox was discovered by Edward Jenner that helped decrease the appearance of small pox, though people were still curious if there really was one. On the other hand, measles caused a mortality similar to that of small pox causing many of the same people to be affected. Measles symptoms would cause fatigue, cough, aches, white spots in mouth and fever. Yellow fever was a small infectious disease which caused life long immunity. Not necessarily like measles and small pox, however, it is spread by a mosquito rather than direct person to person contact. The fever can not only be found in mosquitos but from other animals such as monkey’s which increases the size of its reservoir and its chances for transmission. Yellow fever spreading could be interrupted by eliminating the mosquitos.

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Historians describe health and life expectancy in the 17th century to historians isn’t the same as we know now. They agree that people were not aware that diseases spread by germs, which thrived on dirt. Throughout recorded history, epidemics such as small pox induced occasional efforts to help protect people in the face of a feared disease. They see epidemics as a sign of poor moral and spiritual condition. Diseases were seen less as a natural effect of humans and more as something potentially controlled by the public’s action. According to sources, the people who went inland to explore felt ill and had to return, which they had brought those diseases back that will eventually affect others. Historians claim that most travelers caused some of the spread of the diseases from being affected by the change of air. Traveling also caused people to have little supplies which people all of a sudden began to fall very ill to the lack of supply, due to the few supplies for the sick, many died. Also, the transportation of different animals played a major role in the 17th century. Traveling continent to continent bringing in animals that aren’t in that cultural habitat can affect the people and those from ships. Thinking about the contaminated meat they have because of how unclean they were can affect their environment even more. These historians definitely agree with the uproar of diseases and illnesses caused in the 17th century.

Many events of the 17th century took place such as the Salem Witch Trials. The Salem Witch Trials of 1692 caused a serious outbreak that had an enduring capacity for attracting popular and scholarly attention. It combines an irresistible narrative with a dark appeal of an unsettled American of an assumption of tolerance, conciliation and agreement. Studies of witchcraft, magic, and religion have demonstrated a widespread of a nature of magical beliefs and practices in early modern England and America. From a personal interpretation, illnesses and diseases in the 17th century was the main controversy in the Salem Trials, though their lack knowledge caused them not to come to an understanding. Accusations of fits were misinterpreted for health conditions. Salem Trials may have not been in existence if it wasn’t for the wave of hysteria spreading throughout the colonies causing a special court to be convened in Salem to hear cases. Permanent councils to in force quarantine and isolation were something that was well need to help control the spreading of illnesses and diseases. Initiatives as those definitely sparked and understanding and reflection of new ideas about both the cause and meaning of disease.

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Author Francisco Guerra, explains the history and philosophy of the life sciences in The European-American exchange which was written in 1993. It describes the calendar of the exchange of infectious diseases between Europe and America dates from Columbus’s discovery of the New World in the 14th century. Stephen J. Kunitz, a professor in dentistry and medicine, wrote about the mortality of change in America around the 17th century. Written in 1984, Stephen explains the document saying the changes in mortality patterns and the dynamics of infectious diseases among the generations of immigrants and their descendent over centuries. For a third source, written in 2008, Richard Latner, who is a professor of Tulane University discusses Salem Trials, factionalism, and social change in the 17th century. The author states the outbreak of the trials and how it gained so much popularity and attraction throughout years.

Due to the lack of knowledge about diseases in the 17th century, this left a major impact on the century causing uproar of outbreaks. Historians have piece together the importance of hygiene now and back then. The 17th century were very uncleanliness which cause problems for everyone that era. They may have had to live by certain rules just to get by every day in life and watch what they had to eat. Trading play a major role in the spread of diseases especially back then because that’s all they did. Back then they may have not had much transportation in which they had to use horses who also had diseases and spreading that to other animals that people may have not even know at all. Eventually as centuries passed, a large increase in public health started to increase. Cleanliness is now beginning to be embraced as a path for both physical and moral health. It has changed the way society thought about public responsibility for people health. Religion, hygiene and isolation are now being seen to be compatible and mutually increasing measures to help resist disease.

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Hygiene During the Salem Witch Trials. (2019, Sep 18). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/hygiene-during-the-salem-witch-trials/