How have human cultural practices influenced the patterns of infectious diseases? Note: be sure to discuss a specific infectious disease other than malaria or HIV/AIDS

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

We often think and talk about disease on such a micro scale that we can forget to look at how the big picture enables or hinders the spread of disease. While poor hygiene and poor nutrition or an otherwise weakened immune system play a part in the transmission and infection, it's important to also consider how culture sets up the world where disease may be transmitted.

Let's look at the prevalence of disease in Victorian England. After the industrial revolution, many people moved to the cities in search of work in factories or other industrial production centers. Unfortunately, housing and public health services could not keep up with population growth, and a significant portion of the lower and working classes lived in very crowded and dirty dwellings. Education was heavily classed at this time, which meant that many people went without an understanding of health and disease beyond folklore. Even in the most professional spheres, it was not common for physicians to wash their hands until after the work of Joseph Lister in the 1860's.

Due to the cramped and unsanitary conditions in which Victorian people lived and worked, disease was quickly spread. Tuberculosis, cholera, and smallpox laid waste to many families and factory workers. Just one person infected with any of these diseases could unknowingly infect all those around them, and so on.

Sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis are enabled or hindered in their prevalence by the cultures of sex and health they develop in. In a culture which places a negative moral value on birth control which creates a barrier between the genitalia and sexual fluids, they may be restricted access to such contraception. Even in a culture with a negative view of pre- or extra-marital sex, or sex or pleasure, these things do still occur and restricted access to contraception is a contributing factor in the spread of disease. Sex education, or lack thereof, also plays a part in the spread of disease. When someone does not recognize the symptoms of a disease like syphilis, or is unaware of how it can be spread, their ignorance may contribute to the transmission of the disease. Stigma on sexually transmitted disease also makes people less likely to seek treatment or tell sexual partners out of feelings of fear and shame.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team