Pandemics in 19th century Romania

pandemics in 19th century romania Microbes, diseases and pandemics in 19th century Romania

Microorganisms and the associated diseases that made pandemics possible have occurred with the advancement of medicine, in the life of modern man. Because of microbes and pandemics, healthcare policies were thought out and also because of microbes and pandemics social behavior patterns were changed. In the Romanian space, microorganisms and the diseases they caused grabbed everyone's attention and generated healthcare public policies precisely because they caused epidemics and pandemics. The Romanian world in the 19th century had to face a common enemy: the plague. However, other enemies, unseen and, until then, unbeknownst to man, had manifested with a destructive virulence. Cholera was one such enemy.

Jointly with physician, anthropologist and professor Calin Cotoi with the University of Bucharest we had a closer look at the new phenomenon that emerged in Romanians' mindset, namely the microorganism. We found out from Calin Cotoi when the Romanians first found out about the existence of the microorganisms that generated the pandemics.

"Part of the Romanians got to know that at the same time when the rest of the world got to know it, after Pasteur first discovered the lactic acid fermentation and then the alcoholic one. Then Pasteur revealed there was no such thing as a spontaneous generation, meaning that small animals could not possibly be formed out of nothing. The Romanian population elsewhere around the country, apart from the numbers that had been involved in the healthcare and medical reform was rather late to impart that kind of knowledge. In late 19th century and early 20th century, the image of the microbe becomes more popular in Romania. "

The fear of pestilence of the people in the 19th century was at least as strong as the fear of the medieval man. According to Calin Cotoi, in 19th century Europe, the microbiological enemy was a different one. The plague had by then become history and a new, unseen, enemy emerged: the cholera.

"Until around 1830 or thereabouts, the plagues had still been reported for Romania. In the 19th century there was Caragea's plague which claimed the lives of many, many people. But the most interesting and, to my mind, the most important disease for 19th century Romania was the cholera. I should say, exaggerating things a little bit, that modern Romania was one of the creations of cholera, of the European cholera pandemics. It is one of the most creative diseases, socially speaking, in the 19th century, and is very different from the plague, in this respect. The cholera succeeded to break through the Hapsburg sanitary cordon, and, from India, its hotbeds reached as far as Paris, London and North America, generating a thorough change in the Western social space and, somehow indirectly, in the territories at the Mouths of the Danube. "

There is no secret that epidemics and pandemics were literally generators of change in history. Cholera did not make an exception to that rule either. Calin Cotoi also shown that imposing the strict quarantine, whereby for 40 days running, any transport of commodities and the movement of people were immediately confined on the ship or in quarantine stations on the banks of river Danube, all that favored the enhancement of the authority of the Romanian state. 

Calin Cotoi:

"The Romanian state created quarantine stations on the banks of river Prut, but mainly on the banks of river Danube. This time, the quarantine stations are very tough, it's just that, once created, these stations enter a time of crisis. The Romanian state increasingly depended on the trade of grains, which provided a source of financing and subsistence, and that grains trade is jeopardized by too tough a quarantine. So there was always a tension between the freedom of trade and the danger of cholera. I think it was out of that crisis dilemma that Romania was created."

In the early 19th century, Europe was hit by cholera, a new, unbeknownst disease, against which no form of efficient fight had been discovered. The fact that the Romanian space was modernized, becoming more European, made it possible for solutions and treatments of the developed states to reach the Romanian space.

Calin Cotoi:

SOUNDBITE V.M.: "The cholera had no problem breaking through the old sanitary cordons that had been erected especially against the plague and, elsewhere around the world, against the yellow fever, devastating a Europe where the commercial, industrial and urban progress saw their heydays. Europe had been taken by surprise by the virulence of the cholera. As a reaction to that unknown disease, Europe created several governance and medical systems, as we well as systems of recording the diseases and of certain theories on the relationship the social milieu had with the disease. All that put together provided a makeover regarding to European administration and governance. Such public hygiene models, models of public policy, reached Romania as well, somehow transforming the society. Those international models occurred, as a reaction to that terrible and unknown disease. In Romania, they failed significantly, because of the rift between the urban and the rural areas. In the urban areas the implementation of the public hygiene methods was successful, to a certain extent, yet in the rural regions, the failure of all that was blatant."

In 19th century Romania, microorganisms and pandemics did not cause only sorrow and death, just as they had caused in the previous centuries. The contacts with the Western European world made it possible for the Romanian world to turn from a world of pessimism and fatalism into a world that had real possibilities of eradicating all forms of pestilence. 

(Translation by Eugen Nasta)
Publicat: 2020-08-09 13:00:00
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