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Dr. Henry Littlejohn on Contagion

Dr. Henry D. Littlejohn[1], of Edinburg, Medical Officer to the Scottish Board of Health from 1862 for 46 years, wrote:[2]

All medical authorities are agreed that the risk attending the entering a room in which there are cases of infectious disease is infinitesimally small to the healthy individual; and that even where a person actually assists in removing a patient sick of an infectious disorder to another apartment or to a conveyance, while the risk is greater, it is in reality very small to the sound constitution.

As a rule, it is rare to find nurses affected who live for hours and days at a time in the same atmosphere with the sick, and who at the same time make use of the simplest precautions. It is still rarer to hear of medical men sickening of infectious diseases caught in their practice, and is well known that medical men never, or very rarely, bring the infection of such diseases to their households.

For twenty-five years I have been engaged in active sanitary work, and have had, with very limited staff, to cope with serious outbreaks of Cholera, Small-pox, Fever, Scarlatina, Measles, and Hooping-cough, and although I have during that period brought up a large family, I have never communicated any of these diseases to my children or dependents, nor am I aware that any of the numerous sanitary inspectors who have acted under me have ever contracted or communicated these diseases while in the public service.

To live in constant fear of infection is one of the surest methods of courting the risk of an attack.[3] It is a popular, and I believe a true, saying with regard to Cholera, that the fear of it kills more than the scourge itself. This holds equally good for other forms of infection; and the Sanitary Inspector; to be an efficient public servant must be assured of this cardinal fact, that infectious germs of all kinds have no power of successfully attacking the healthy individual.

1. Sir Henry Duncan Littlejohn MD LLD FRCSE was a Scottish surgeon, forensic scientist and public health official during the late 19th century and early 20th century. He served for 46 years as Edinburgh's first Medical Officer of Health, during which time he brought about significant improvements in the living conditions and the health of the city's inhabitants.
2. Henry D. Littlejohn, MD, “Report by Dr. Littlejohn,” The Poor Law Magazine and Parochial Journal, vol. VIII, 1880, Edinburgh, pp. 309-311.
3. This has been alluded to by Muslim scholars such as al-Qurtubī and Ibn al-Qayyim, which is that fear itself can induce either the same illness or some other illness.

© Abu Iyaad — Benefits in dīn and dunyā


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