The History of Infectious Diseases and Medicine

Pathogens. 2022 Oct 4;11(10):1147. doi: 10.3390/pathogens11101147.


From ancient times to the present, mankind has experienced many infectious diseases, which have mutually affected the development of society and medicine. In this paper, we review various historical and current infectious diseases in a five-period scheme of medical history newly proposed in this paper: (1) Classical Western medicine pioneered by Hippocrates and Galen without the concept of infectious diseases (ancient times to 15th century); (2) traditional Western medicine expanded by the publication of printed medical books and organized medical education (16th to 18th century); (3) early modern medicine transformed by scientific research, including the discovery of pathogenic bacteria (19th century); (4) late modern medicine, suppressing bacterial infectious diseases by antibiotics and elucidating DNA structure as a basis of genetics and molecular biology (20th century, prior to the 1980s); and (5) exact medicine saving human life by in vivo visualization and scientifically verified measures (after the 1990s). The historical perspectives that these five periods provide help us to appreciate ongoing medical issues, such as the present COVID-19 pandemic in particular, and remind us of the tremendous development that medicine and medical treatment have undergone over the years.

Keywords: exact medicine; history of medicine; infectious disease; modern medicine; traditional Western medicine.

Publication types

  • Review