Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Myth of the Medical Breakthrough

There's a popular myth afoot (maybe you've been spreading it?) that says that the roughly 50% increase in life expectancy that occurred in Western countries over the past 100 years can be traced directly to advances in medicine. The advent of antibiotics and vaccines, in particular, added years, perhaps decades, to people's lives. Didn't they?

Or did vaccines and antibiotics actually come along rather late in the game, after long-underway drops in infectious disease rates had already run their course?

Perhaps the reason we're not all dying from bubonic plague is that we no longer live with rats in our houses. Vaccines certainly had nothing to do with it.

What do you think? Are vaccines and antibiotics keeping us from returning to the Infectious Disease Age? Or did we emerge from the Infectious Disease Age for other reasons?