History of Medicine
Infectious Disease Introduction
This exhibit on infectious disease begins with an examination of two prototypical campaigns against tuberculosis and venereal disease. Tuberculosis was the first infectious disease to stimulate a nationally coordinated campaign while venereal disease became the scourge most widely targeted by the federal government during the First and Second World Wars. The concluding sections examine visual representations of broader themes in the history of many infectious disease campaigns including immunization and eradication.
The threat of infectious disease was heightened in nineteenth-century America as a combination of rapid urbanization, industrialization, and immigration led to major problems with overcrowding in many cities. Poor housing and nutrition and inadequate or nonexistent water supplies and waste-disposal systems created ideal conditions for a series of devastating outbreaks of cholera, dysentery, typhoid fever, influenza, malaria, diphtheria, and tuberculosis. By the turn of the century, however, many of these diseases had begun to decline due to the combination of new scientific methods for identifying and treating diseases and ongoing public health improvements in sanitation and hygiene.
At the same time, public health educators found a new tool in the fight against infectious disease. Borrowed from commercial advertisers, illustrated posters attracted attention and communicated their messages rapidly. Designed to persuade viewers, sell products or ideas, and change behavior, posters reflected and helped shape the history of important public health problems faced by governments and citizens alike. As such, these posters provide a visual record of strategies used to fight infectious diseases throughout the twentieth century.