The threats of the past, today – Rebecca Waters, Category Manager, Initial Medical

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  Posted by: Dental Design      13th November 2019

You’d be forgiven for thinking that in the modern day; diseases of the past are no longer a concern. After all, in the last century the advances we have made in medicine and understanding in regards to pathogens, have meant that some once deadly diseases such as smallpox have been all but eliminated.

However, our lifestyles and attitudes towards diseases and vaccinations have also changed and this means that some of the conditions we may no longer consider to be a threat are poised to make a comeback.

Dickensian diseases today

The very mention of something like typhoid or scarlet fever is likely to conjure images in your mind of the grim streets of Victorian London, where soot and mist hangs in the air and whooping cough echoes out of the slums. However, though these diseases seem more suitably placed within the pages of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist rather than the modern day, they are actually in threat of making a marked return.

But why is this happening? The first thing to remember is that these diseases never fully disappeared to begin with. It’s easy to look at statistics and believe that these diseases are suddenly appearing out of nowhere, but the fact remains that it’s actually our ability and methods to fight off these diseases that’s changing, not necessarily the presence of the pathogens themselves.

Which diseases are making a comeback?

According to statistics gathered by the NHS, old fashioned diseases making a comeback include whooping cough, scarlet fever, gout, rickets, scurvy and many more. Cases of these diseases have increased a considerable amount in just a short period of time. Scarlet fever, for example, had 429 reported cases in the country in 2010-2011, but this number rocketed to 1,321 in 2017-2018.[i]

Whooping cough has seen a similar surge in cases. Although the disease was all but eliminated in the UK following a wide-scale vaccination effort in the 1950s, hospital admissions due to the condition rose by 59% from 2010 to 2018.[ii]

These worrying trends are not UK specific, however, and in the United States there has been evidence of even scarier conditions raising their heads once more, including mumps, measles, tuberculosis and, terrifyingly, the bubonic plague.[iii]

Although many of these diseases can be treated with antibiotics and other defences that were unavailable to people in Victorian times, this doesn’t mean that the conditions can’t have life-threatening implications. Children, in particular can suffer considerably after contracting any one of these diseases, and this is because their immune systems are weaker and less developed. But what reasons are behind these diseases rearing their heads once again?

Lifestyle and disease

We now live in a much cleaner, clinical world. Despite this, certain lifestyle factors still mean that old fashioned diseases have the opportunity to thrive once more.

In the case of non-infectious diseases such as rickets and scurvy, a lot of this has to do with diet and sunlight exposure. Children are spending more and more time indoors,[iv] and the growing number of people living in poverty within the UK is restricting access to nutritional foods.[v] As both scurvy and rickets are caused by vitamin deficiencies, it means that these diseases are spiking in poorer communities and amongst children who aren’t eating properly or getting enough sunlight.

However, the lack of vitamins may also be contributing to a higher number of infectious disease cases as well. Our immune systems cannot fight off viruses and bacteria if they are not supported by essential minerals, vitamins and amino acids and this means that people are becoming more susceptible to pathogens in their environment.[vi]

Another very worrying factor that could be influencing this resurgence is the growth of the anti-vaxxer movement. Anti-vaxxers are those who believe that vaccinations can cause autism, and therefore refuse to have their children vaccinated. There is no substantial proof supporting this claim, and this is proving to be a dangerous decision as it is leaving young children susceptible to diseases such as measles, mumps and rubella that vaccinations effectively defend against.

What can dentists do?

As dental professionals it’s your responsibility to inform patients about the importance of a good diet, which should help lower the instances of dietary caused conditions such as scurvy. However, what you can’t do necessarily is change people’s views about vaccinations. As such, limiting the potential for the spread of diseases becomes a core priority, especially as dental practices are a perfect environment for these diseases to transfer between people.

The use of highly effective cleaning products throughout the practice is essential in order to prevent this. The Steri-7 Xtra range of disinfectants from Initial Medical is particularly recommended, especially as these can be used in all areas of the practice. Incorporating hand treatments, surface cleaners and other essential products, this range kills 99.9999% of pathogens and also has Reactive Barrier Technology – a special feature that means that once dried on a surface, any viruses and bacteria cannot recolonise these areas for up to 72 hours.

Let’s head back to the future

The fact that these diseases are making a resurgence is concerning given that so many of these cases are preventable. However, by making sure you use effective cleaning products and advise patients properly about the importance of a good diet, you can do your bit to ensure that these diseases cannot spread and that they remain where they belong – in the past.


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[i] CNN. ‘Dickensian Diseases’ Are Making A Comeback in the UK. Link: [Last accessed July 19].

[ii] CNN. ‘Dickensian Diseases’ Are Making A Comeback in the UK. Link: [Last accessed July 19].

[iii] Health. Five Old-Time Diseases That Are Making A Comeback. Link: [Last accessed July 19].

[iv] The Express. Deadly Victorian Diseases Make A Return From Obscurity, But Why Now? Link:[Last accessed July 19].

[v] The Guardian. New Study Finds 4.5 Million Children Living in Poverty. Link: [Last accessed July 19].

[vi] Bourke, C., Berkley, J., Prendergast, A. Immune Dysfunction as a Cause and Consequence of Malnutrition. Trends Immunol. 2016 Jun; 37(6): 386–398.

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