Von der Ansteckung der epidemischen Krankheiten und besonders der pest (1782). (The spread of infectious diseases with emphasis on the plague).

Von der Ansteckung der epidemischen Krankheiten und besonders der pest (1782)


Paschal Joseph von Ferro


Paschal Joseph von Ferro was born in Bonn in 1753 and began training as a surgeon by
the time he was just 14 years old. Despite his time as a member of a Palatine cavalry regiment
from 1771 to 1775, he decided to pursue medicine. He studied in Heidelberg, Strasbourg, and Vienna. Returning to Vienna he practiced medicine, including balneotherapy. This was also the time when through the efforts of Edward Jenner cowpox vaccination was spreading. Ferro is one of the supporters and advocate of vaccination. He died in 1809 following a typhoid infection during the Battle of Wagram between the Austrian and French (Napoleon).

In Ferro’s essay, Von der Ansteckung der epidemischen Krankheiten und besonders der pest, he discusses the spread of infectious diseases with emphasis on the plague. Starting from a standpoint of superstition and fear regarding the spread of diseases, Ferro notes how the public perception of the plague is alive and that the plague truly never ceases. He correctly notes that there are other diseases which are infectious in nature yet never lead to an epidemic. Bacteria have not yet been identified as the cause of infectious disease. Ferro designates this specific transmission of disease as “poison,” indicating that “if the vapor of an infected patient comes to healthy bodies, this poison can excite a similar change and truly overcome a normal, healthy body”. Now, such contagion always requires a body already predisposed to the disease, and the infectiousness of these diseases is to that of the epidemic-infectious diseases.

Throughout his essay, Ferro follows the plague among different cities and explains the
causes, effects, and results of this deadly scare. For example, he states how in the city of Delft, (Holland) one winter was abnormally warm that it allowed for the plague to last longer than expected. Luckily, the next winter was better and the hunger scare, one of the detrimental results of the plague, was resolved as food came back in abundance. Arising with famine and having the capability to spread like wildfire, the plague was defeated as the dry weather persisted. What Ferro correctly realizes that physicians must first identify the causes of this diseases in order to prevent from occurring elsewhere again. Yet, it will take another 100 or so years before Pasteur and Koch make the connection between pathogen and disease.

Based in part on research done by Caroline Yunah Chun, class of 2022 as part of their assignment in Elective in History of Medicine and Dentistry, 2018-2019. Edited by Andrew I Spielman.

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