Living and Dying Before Medical Science (Part 1)

JB Shreve
April 30, 2020 3 mins to read
Reading Time: 2 minutes

This is a two-part episode in the series and it discusses living and dying before medical science came of age in human history.

Plagued: Humanity’s History with Disease, Outbreaks, and Pandemics 

Podcast Series – Part 3

In parts 3 and 4 of JB Shreve & the End of History’s podcast series Plagued – Humanity’s History with Outbreaks and Pandemics we look at various diseases of this period.

Prior to the second half of the twentieth-century plagues and outbreak were not merely a threat – they were part of daily life. People lived in constant fear and awareness of a legion of diseases with life or death consequences. Loads of factors led to this state of existence from poor sanitation, rising industrialization, the domestication of animals and not least of all, really, really bad science and medicine.

Living and Dying Before Medical Science

In this episode JB Shreve leads the discussion on smallpox, LynnDee Summers leads out on cholera and Jason Lofton on rabies.

Below are links to several fact sheets, books, and other items mentioned regarding the diseases discussed in this episode.


Boy with smallpox

Smallpox is one of the deadliest diseases known to humans. It was literally a plague that everyone from the kings and queens of Europe to the peasants of the New World dreaded. The biographies and journals of famous Americans from George Washington to Abraham Lincoln include frequent references to the threat of smallpox. And it was only eradicated in the last half-century.


According to the World Health Organization cholera affects up to 4 million people a year around the world. Among this number as many as 143,000 die every year. As bad as that number is, it is a fraction compared to the threat that cholera once posed to human civilization. The story of human history with cholera is the story of disease and also the development of science. This is a key piece in the story of living and dying before medical science.


Our final story in this episode about living and dying before medical science tells the story of rabies. This was a fear that plagued human existence. The stories of werewolves and vampires all come from this horrible disease that once plagued mankind.

You can hear our podcast episode on the Living and Dying Before Medical Science as part of this overall podcast series when you are a Patreon supporter to the JB Shreve & the End of History. You can also learn more about the entire podcast series here.

history with disease history of pandemic history of outbreaks history of pestilence