How did the medical practices of Dr. Benjamin Rush and Dr. Jean Deveze differ?

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ecofan74 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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In 1793, a yellow fever epidemic wracked Philadelphia, leaving many of the doctors in the city wondering how to treat the spreading disease most effectively.  Benjamin Rush, a well-respected physician in the city, came to the fore as a fighter of the disease.  Rush, however, was not alone in his efforts.  At the same time, Dr. Jean Deveze, a refugee from Haiti, joined the fight.  Though they fought to further the same cause, they conducted their campaigns against yellow fever differently.

Benjamin Rush, unlike Deveze, refused to believe the disease was not contagious.  Viewing the disease in this way helped to dictate his methods for curing it, specifically the aggressive attitude he brought to his treatments.  His preferred methods of treatment were drastic purgation and blood-letting, measures consistent with the idea that the disease was blood borne.  While these were accepted courses of treatment, the fact that Rush would call for the treatment upon the slightest onset of the disease alarmed many of his contemporaries (and contributed to the number of casualties he witnessed).  In addition to these measures, Rush also advocated the use of mercury (by way of calomel) in his treatment.  Rush used calomel because he believed the liver to be the focal area of the disease.  Rush's copious use of the treatment often resulted in mercury poison, but also seemed to effect the cure of a number of his patients.

Unlike Rush, Jean Deveze did not believe yellow fever to be contagious.  That being said, Deveze did employ methods that Rush himself practiced.  Though he did so in a much more limited sense, Deveze did bleed his patients.  Deveze, unlike Rush, had experience treating yellow fever in his native Haiti, which perhaps explains the relative calmness in his treatment methods.  Rather than focus solely on the administering of medications and direct treatment, Deveze emphasized the necessity of cleanliness, only dispensing quinine and stimulants in limited doses.

Deveze's treatment, in the overall scheme of things, proved the more effective, primarily because it tended to be less lethal - the number one requirement for successful treatment.

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