A Look at Personal Hygiene

Some History:

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Ancient Pre-history—>hygiene probably consisted of falling into streams. "Chew sticks" (twigs mashed at one end so that there is a fuzzy part) are used to clean teeth—this practice continued into more current times.

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1700 B.C.E.—>Minoan Palace on Island of Crete: Sewers and drains, plumbing, running water, and a flush toilet. Link to Ancient Minoan & Greek artifacts:

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1500 B.C.E.—>Ebers Papyrus from ancient Egypt indicated bathing as a health treatment. Bathing and cleanliness so important to Egyptians, that even some tombs contained bath facilities for the dead!

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1600 B.C.E.—>Moses gives the Israelites lots of rules about behavior, foods, and cleanliness, including ritual bathing.

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700 B.C.E.—>Ancient Greeks had hot and cold water systems for bathing. Used sand or pumice for scrubbing; clothing washed in streams without soap. Greeks cleaned their teeth by wiping them with a linen cloth. This practice persisted into the Middle Ages.

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509 B.C.E.-467 C.E.—>the time of the Romans; first great public water and sewer systems; public baths (like gigantic health spas); chamber pots; public latrines; fresh water for all Roman citizens. Soap is used for cleansing, as well as oil and a strigil. A look at a Roman Bath:

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500-1000 C.E.—>the European Dark Ages. Everything we knew about cleanliness from the Roman Era, we forgot. Moats around castles were cesspits, and sources of disease.

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1000-1300 C.E.—>Middle Ages. Bathing is back in style! Chamber pots were in use, but you threw out the waste into the streets, where open sewage ran in channels down the center of the roadways in towns and cities. Reemergence of public baths and latrines. In 1292, Paris had 25 public baths for its 250,000 residents. By the 1200's soap is a big industry for Spain, France, and even England. Wiping of the teeth, use of handmade brushes, and picking the teeth with a toothpick were all a part of dental hygiene.

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1300-1700 C.E.—>the Renaissance. Bathing takes a nose dive! New ideas about bathing blame it for sickness. It was thought that filth protected the body. Only dry towels were used to rub the body. Fleas, and public filth, however, contributed to outbreaks of the plague which periodically swept through Europe, eventually killing at least a third of all people. Bathing makes a slow recovery. Queen Elizabeth I took a bath once a month "whether she needed it or not." One bright note, people began to cart their excrement away rather than throw it in the streets. This helped to cut down on cholera and other epidemics. Link to a woodcut of London during the Plague, and an excerpt of the diary of Samuel Pepys.

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1700-to present—>In 1774, a Scheele from Sweden discovers chlorine, and bleach is developed (a huge boon to cleanliness and germ control!). The first modern toothbrush is introduced in 1780, made from a bone handle, and boar bristles. Edward Jenner develops a vaccine against smallpox—the first vaccine! (Louis Pasteur further refines the idea of vaccines in the 1800's, and would develop the first vaccine against rabies.)

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By the 19th Century (the 1800's), scientists were beginning to recognize the role of germs (bacteria) in disease. Physicians campaigned to get people to wash their hands—this included other doctors! Many people died in hospitals because a doctor would come from surgery without washing his hands, and would then deliver a baby (mother and baby would usually die, of course). Joseph Lister encouraged the use of antiseptics in surgery—and when more people lived, people began to think this cleanlinss stuff was important! Bathrooms were catching on as well, along with sewage control, and providing clean water to prevent cholera. The first modern toothbrush, and antipersperants and deodorants were introduced in the late mid to late 1800's.

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In the 20th Century, the big advances were with antibiotics—these could kill diseases and end infections that routinely killed in earlier times. The first antibiotic was penicillin, in 1928, but didn't receive wide use until WW II. Fluoride in toothpastes and in water supplies dramatically reduces tooth decay in the population.

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Today, many people in the world are still without clean water on a daily basis, are subjected to open sewage and diseases like hepatitis A, cholera, and even diarrhea (a fatal illness for many infants in developing countries). We still face diseases for which there are as yet no cure (notably, viral diseses like HIV/AIDS, HPV, Hepatitis B and C). We still face diseases of malnutrition, insect borne illnesses like malaria, and intestinal parasites (worm-like organisms which live in our bodies). These are public health and public hygiene issues that organizations and nations around the world are trying to tackle.

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Personal Hygiene—>