While today’s seafarers usually have to worry about the occasional breakout of norovirus, the 19th century Royal Navy frequently dealt with “exotic” disease such as yellow fever, cholera, and malaria. The Wellcome Trust has written an insightful piece that looks into naval medicine during England’s Victorian era, and how the field of medicine and public health significantly advanced because of the work of naval MOs (medical officers). Naval MOs had a significant (but often dangerous) advantage to civilian physicians in that they had the opportunity to directly observe these diseases in different parts of the world, in a variety of contexts, and to study their causes and behavior. In addition to treating diseases, the article explains how the role of naval MOs changed with advancements in technology. For example, the transition from the sailboat to the steam engine presented new occupational hazards with heat, steam, and fume issues, as well as dangers in manufacturing the new parts. Perhaps without the work of naval MOs, organizations such as the CDC and OSHA wouldn’t be the same!
From the Wellcome Trust: Victorian naval medicine