Pre Antimicrobial Era

Plague Doctors

Have you ever heard of plague doctors? You have probably seen them in movies. They are usually evil geniuses who are mostly associated with mayhem thanks to the beak-like mask they wear. The mask has a pointed edge at the nostril region that gives them a beast-like appearance.

But are they really evil? Let’s go into a little bit of the history of the plague doctors. The plague doctors were not just physicians; they also included volunteers, farmers, and others who cared for patients who were infected with the bubonic plague during the Black Death in the 14th century, which caused over 25 million deaths in Europe making it become one of the most lethal pandemics in history.

The Beak

Before the discovery of microbes, there were several attempts to determine the cause of diseases, the most popular of which were the humoral and miasma theories. Microbes wouldn’t be discovered until the 17th century.

For the humoral theory, physicians believed that good health was dependent on the balance of the four humors: blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile, and that an imbalance in any would result in ill health. Later on, the miasma theory gained ground, which held that diseases are caused by miasma, meaning “bad smell,” and that was the reason behind the beak-like mask used by plague doctors.

The elongated beak region was filled with scented flowers in the belief that it would purify the bad air and prevent them from contracting diseases from the patients. Of course, that did not help much.

The bubonic plague that caused so many deaths in Europe and shrank the population is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis and can now be cured at hospitals using antibiotics. However, the bubonic plague is not the only disease whose cure has been developed after causing so much havoc to the human population; leprosy is also a disease caused by a bacterial infection and in those days it would have gotten one exiled into the forest by the community but is now treatable thanks to antibiotics.


Following the discovery of antibiotics by Fleming in 1928, some otherwise deadly illnesses now have a cure, and the population is gradually forgetting history and what the world was like without antibiotics.

The misuse of these antibiotics has now led to a new wave of disease-causing agents, otherwise known as “superbugs.” These “superbugs” are microorganisms that have grown resistant to most of the drugs that normally should work on them due to a couple of reasons, the primary one being the misuse of drugs, either by underdosing or overdosing. Lack of proper hygiene and poor infection prevention and control are also among the causes of the resistance.

To do

Finally, here are some ways to stop the creation of superbugs and prevent microbes’ resistance to drugs:

  • Hand washing with soap and water or with a hand sanitizer
  • Completing the doctor’s prescribed dosage for the antibiotics
  • Do not self-medicate, unless you are a doctor yourself 🙂

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