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The Strange Ways We Treated Childhood Diseases Before Immunizations

It’s National Immunization Week (April 20-27) here in the US, part of the World Health Organization’s larger World Immunization Week (April 24-30). According to the Centers for Disease Control, “During WIW, all six WHO regions, including more than 180 Member States, territories, and areas, will simultaneously promote immunization, advance equity in the use of vaccines and universal access to vaccination services, and enable cooperation on cross-border immunization activities,” all in the fight to end childhood disease around the world.

The CDC notes that “Through immunization, we can now protect infants and children from 14 vaccine-preventable diseases before age two.” They add, “Routine childhood immunization in one birth cohort prevents about 20 million cases of disease and about 42,000 deaths.” 10 of the most common childhood diseases now preventable by vaccine are listed below, along with the homeopathic, sometimes strange and often ineffective ways people tried to treat them. We’ve come a long way, baby!


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    image-3546
  • CHICKENPOX – Treated with oatmeal 2 of 12
    CHICKENPOX - Treated with oatmeal
    Chickenpox, also known as varicella, is rarely fatal but certainly uncomfortable. (I'm from the last generation of people who had chickenpox as children, and I was infected when I was young. I remember how itchy the bumps were, and how difficult it was to resist scratching them.) Before the chickenpox vaccine became available in the US in 1995, oatmeal baths were a common treatment. It should be noted that "Once a person has had chickenpox, [the virus] remains in the nerve cells of the body and can reappear years later causing shingles ... Adults aged 60 years and older should get a single dose of the zoster vaccine." People with shingles usually develop a painful rash on one side of the body, a condition that makes it difficult to sleep.
    Photo credit: iStock
  • MEASLES – Treated with sage and tea 3 of 12
    MEASLES - Treated with sage and tea
    According to CM Story, "If a child was suspected of coming down with the measles, the common practice was to get something hot in him. This was sometimes just a drink of hot tea. The acknowledged best tea for testing whether or not measles was in the making was to put a bit of powdered sage or a few sage leaves in a cup of hot water, steep it slowly and then strain the tea. After a child had drunk this mixture, it usually wasn't long before a crop of bumps would pepper his face and body if he was really coming down with the measles. Of course, this phase of the disease was followed by fever and often a terribly bad feeling that required other treatment. But at least, the mother could diagnose the case and start from there." Measles is typically not a serious disease, though in some cases complications may occur, which may include bronchitis, pneumonia, and encephalitis, which may cause deafness or mental retardation, according to the CDC.
    Photo credit: iStock
  • MUMPS – Treated with fig leaves 4 of 12
    MUMPS - Treated with fig leaves
    Mumps are not fatal, but are painful. According to the CDC, "Mumps typically starts with a few days of fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness, and loss of appetite, and is followed by swelling of salivary glands." Thanks to vaccination, mumps is now a very rare disease in the US. Traditional treatments include smearing a fig leaf with ghee or oil and warming it over fire, then applying the leaf over the inflamed part of the neck.
    Photo credit: iStock
  • RUBELLA – Prevented with echinacea 5 of 12
    RUBELLA - Prevented with echinacea
    While Rubella is commonly known as "German measles," it actually is not related to the measles virus at all. The disease is typically mild, however, if a mom-to-be contracts it during pregnancy, it can pass to the fetus and put it at risk of spontaneous abortion or premature birth. Old-fashioned remedies against rubella include every college student's favorite "medicine," echinacea.
    Photo credit: iStock
  • INFLUENZA – Treated with horseradish 6 of 12
    INFLUENZA - Treated with horseradish
    The only way to "cure" the flu is to prevent it, but symptoms have typically been treated with home remedies like a horseradish/olive oil muscle rub. The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get a seasonal flu vaccine. That goes for adults, too! The flu can be deadly.
    Photo credit: iStock
  • WHOOPING COUGH – Treated with garlic on the feet 7 of 12
    WHOOPING COUGH - Treated with garlic on the feet
    Before a vaccine was available, pertussis killed 5,000 to 10,000 people in the United States each year, according to KidsHealth. One way people have historically treated pertussis naturally is by using a garlic salve on the chest, back and soles of the feet, which allegedly boosts immunity and fights infection. Recent pertussis outbreaks prove it's best not to leave your baby's life in the hands of a garlic clove and go for immunization instead.
    Photo credit: iStock
  • PNEUMOCOCCAL DISEASE – Treated with chicken soup 8 of 12
    PNEUMOCOCCAL DISEASE - Treated with chicken soup
    The CDC notes that "There are different types of pneumococcal disease, such as pneumococcal pneumonia, bacteremia, meningitis, and otitis media." Pneumococcal disease can be fatal. In some cases, it can result in long-term problems, like brain damage, hearing loss, and limb loss. The PCV13 vaccine given in 4 doses prevents these diseases, which have otherwise been traditionally treated symptomatically with chicken soup.
    Photo credit: iStock
  • HEPATITIS B – Treated with amarus 9 of 12
    HEPATITIS B - Treated with amarus
    According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, an extract of amarus was historically used in India to treat the jaundiced condition caused by hepatitis. The plant has been shown to "inhibit viral replication in woodchuck hepatitis." Children in the US are typically vaccinated against hepatitis A and B. "The CDC recommends that all children between the ages of 12 months to 23 months be vaccinated with the hepatitis A vaccine" and "Because of the risk of hepatitis B in infants becoming chronic, the CDC recommends that all infants be vaccinated, starting with the first dose at birth," according to WebMD.
    Photo credit: Wikimedia
  • DIPHTHERIA – Treated with blood letting 10 of 12
    DIPHTHERIA - Treated with blood letting
    Children under 5 and adults 60+ are especially at risk for diphtheria, a bacterial infection that spreads quickly and primarily affects the nose and throat. The College of Physicians of Philadelphia describe the disease historically as "the plague among children." In the 1700s, the Boston Gazette recommended blood letting as a means of treatment. *shudder*
    Photo credit: Callyn Pierson
  • DIPHTHERIA – Treated with Borax 11 of 12
    DIPHTHERIA - Treated with Borax
    The College of Physicians of Philadelphia also note that the disease was sometimes treated with Borax under the tongue. Double shudder. The first vaccine against this ravaging killer was developed in 1894, according to The New York Times.
    Photo credit: iStock
  • POLIO – Treated with an iron lung 12 of 12
    POLIO - Treated with an iron lung
    According to the CDC, In the early to mid 1900s, polio crippled around 35,000 people a year — just in the United States. One of its most notable victims was President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who opened the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis in 1937 (now known as the March of Dimes). Before the polio vaccine was introduced in 1953 thanks to Dr. Jonas Salk, a tank respirator known as the iron lung kept patients breathing when the virus paralyzed their chest muscles and would have made it impossible.
    Photo credit: Wikipedia

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