How Plumbing (Not Vaccines) Eradicated Diseases
Vaccines have done a great deal of good in the past, but plumbing, clean water, and sanitation are the real stars of saving the world from disease.
Vaccines get all the glory, but most plumbers will tell you that it was water infrastructure – sewage systems and clean water – that eradicated disease, and they’re right.
Disease Before Plumbing
After the fall of the Roman Empire, Europeans despised all things Roman, including bathing. There was a widespread belief that getting wet caused illness. This contempt and fear of bathing persisted through the Dark Ages. Some Europeans defied local customs by bathing, but this was usually done over great protest. When Queen Elizabeth bathed, her servants panicked, fearing she would become ill and die.
This resistance to bathing was brought across the Atlantic to America, influencing habits all the way into the 1800s. In 1835, Philadelphia almost passed an ordinance forbidding wintertime bathing. Ten years later, Boston did outlaw bathing, except by medical directive. (Though this law was not widely enforced, it does illustrate the American resistance to bathing as late as the mid 1800s.)