Wilton column: Each health crisis results in lessons learned

Continuing my last article, at the end of the 1800s, approximately 14 percent of the world’s death rate was the result of tuberculosis (TB). It was the third leading cause of death in America. Though doctors thought bacteria was a major cause, the public didn’t take appropriate protective measures, because they didn’t believe their behaviors and attitudes could affect their health. They continued to behave as normal, such as sipping from a shared glass with strangers and family as well as the common practice of spitting inside public buildings, on public transit and sidewalks. By the late 1890s, the New York City Health Department began a campaign for people to use special spittoons indoors that were to be regularly cleaned. It soon became the norm to consider such habits uncouth and bad behavior. These modifications in behavior reduced the TB incidence within the population and helped to eventually eradicate a widespread killer disease.

Another common health problem that today would cause society to swell up in unrelenting opposition was the amount of human and animal waste in the streets of the biggest cities, as well as small towns across the U.S. During the late 1800s, there was no such business as waste removal from homes. People merely threw their garbage out of their windows into the streets. And because there was no indoor plumbing, imagine where that waste was discarded … correct, out the window!

Now, picture transportation. Horses were the mode of transport (unless you took a chance of getting hit in the head by garbage tossed from windows, walking on the side of the street). We know what happens in parades that include horses today, the horse must relieve themselves when and wherever they are located. Now imagine the number of horses and horse-drawn carriages. All that waste remained in the streets, because again, there was no formal waste removal business. Finally, because of the size, weight and inability to move them, when a horse died in the street, it was left until decomposition allowed the removal of the carcass. Meanwhile, children were known to play around these carcasses.

When the mode of transportation evolved to the motorcar, and as indoor plumbing gradually became part of modern housing, these issues slowly became a thing of the past. As physicians began to learn and pass on to their patients the idea of fresh air, open spaces and ventilation could positively affect good health, expansion to the West and Southwest started to boom. Homes were built with large porches and more windows to allow air flow.

Today, we will take some lessons learned from this pandemic and make them a part of daily living. Coughing and sneezing into one’s elbow, frequent washing of hands and faces with soap, isolating yourself a bit longer if you are not well or getting over a cold/flu. We will evolve and be better and healthier for it.

Some of the information herein comes from Katherine A. Foss of Smithsonianmag.com.

Tom Moore is the adjutant at American Legion Post 86 in Wilton. Information: legionpost86@gmail.com.