Sanitation and Disease

Early colonists were ill prepared for the sanitation challenges of their new home. Not only were ships importing sickness from all over the world, but lack of necessary sanitation technology and knowledge, combined with the immediate demands of survival, made sanitation concerns a low priority. Public health was seen as the responsibility of the community and church. Early colonial cities were filthy places. People threw their waste in the streets, and most sanitation was managed with the use of pigs, goats, and turkey buzzards. These left their own waste, along with that of horses, which were used by everyone for transportation. Diphtheria (caused by infected milk), dysentery and other intestinal diseases (known as “flux”), and common colds, which often resulted in pleurisy or pneumonia, killed many more people than epidemics. In the Southern colonies, malaria was endemic and was referred to as part of the “seasoning” process or quartile fever due to the predictability of its appearance in the population. Disease killed more than half the members of the original Jamestown colony and decimated native populations, who had no immunity. In 1587, Thomas Harriot wrote of the colonists’ visits to native villages in his Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, we sought by all meanes possible to win them by gentlenesse but that within a few dayes after our departure from every such Towne, the people began to die very fast, and many in short space… Native American populations including the Iroquois and Susquehannock in the east; the Huron, Chippewa, and Potawatomi along the Sandusky River and around the southern shores of the Great Lakes; and the Catawba, Sioux, and Cherokee farther south all suffered the devastating effects of these new diseases. The number one killer of colonial women, however, was childbirth. In the Plymouth colony, one out of every thirty births resulted in the mother’s death. In other areas, this mortality rate was even higher. Realizing the relationship between foul odors and ill health, early city planners began to institute laws against the use of animals as waste management. In 1670, Charles Town (which later became Charleston, South Carolina) passed an ordinance against “swine running free” and ordered property owners to cut their “stinking weeds.” By the 1680s, New York and Boston hired public scavengers and began to arrange for garbage removal by contract, and, in 1691 New York created the first commission on street cleaning. In 1712, Charles Town hired America’s first health officer, Commissioner Gilbert Guttery, who, having by this time established a link between incoming ships and epidemics of yellow fever and smallpox, was empowered to board ships to investigate the health of the crew and cargo before allowing them to disembark. SNIFF + FLEHMEN Sanitation in Africa Mapq8Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Global Network Mapq8Water and Sanitation Related Diseases and the Environment … Mapq8

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