Germ History: Milkmaids Inspire Vaccines, But The Germs Keep Coming : Goats and Soda After milkmaids helped discover vaccination, we spent the next 150 years learning how to keep ourselves safe from germs. By the 1960s, we thought the battle was finally over. If only!
NPR logo Germ History: Milkmaids Inspire Vaccines, But The Germs Keep Coming

Germ History: Milkmaids Inspire Vaccines, But The Germs Keep Coming

What Causes Pandemics? We Do

NPR explores the causes behind our new hyperinfectious era. Join the conversation with the hashtag #KillerViruses or tweet us @NPRGoatsAndSoda

For most of human history, we had a lot of bad ideas about how we were getting sick. We also had plenty of bad ideas about how to prevent it, like bloodletting, drilling large holes in the head and drinking arsenic.

We really only started to figure out how to effectively fight infectious disease about 200 years ago, when, inspired by milkmaids, a doctor named Edward Jenner decided to take a closer look at a promising folk remedy - the surprising details we'll leave for the video.

Eventually, he invented vaccination, our first safe and effective way to fight disease. About time!

So what did that do for us? Consider that in 1900, the average person lived only about 30 years. Today, most of us live to 70. We were so successful in such a short time, the U.S. surgeon general reportedly exclaimed in 1967 that we had closed the book on infectious disease.

If only! The conditions that created the rise of human germs are only intensifying. Which means there are more germs emerging now than ever before.

If you missed 'em, catch up on Episodes 1 and 2 below ...

What do you want to know about pandemics? Share your questions by submitting them in our special tool here. Our global health team will answer some of them in an upcoming story.