February 28, 2019|Reports

“Causes of Death” – Dr Simon Wills

A cheerful topic for our February meeting! Dr Simon Wills took 42 members and visitors on a trip down a morbid memory lane looking at how the major causes of death have changed since the earliest records – dating back as far as 1660.

While today our “top five” are cancer, heart disease, stroke, pneumonia and dementia, in 1660s London, top of the list (by a long way) was plague, followed by consumption/TB, “fever”, miscarriage and “griping in the gut”.

Simon pointed out that while “average” life span was much shorter (81 in 2012 and 35 in 1500), birth and early childhood were the most dangerous times so the average paints a misleading picture of how long people actually lived. Although plague had a devastating impact its cyclical nature and eventual disappearance means that TB has remained consistently at or near the top of killers until the mid twentieth century; while miscarriages and early childhood deaths reduced in frequency a little earlier.

One of the more mysterious causes of death was “teeth” – widely believed to be caused by little white tooth worms – up to the mid 18th century. Simon’s talk was a sobering reminder of how antibiotics and other medical advances have transformed our chances of being given the chance of dying of “old age” today.

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