HEALTH: THE HISTORY OF FACEMASKS AND DISEASE THROUGH THE CENTURIES

Originating during the Black Death of the Middle Ages, face coverings to protect against the transmission of disease are not just medical requirements; they’re now a fashion statement. Mark Phillips talks with medical historian Mark Honigsbaum (“The Pandemic Century”) about the purpose and style of facemasks.

COMMENTARY

Medicine has always operated in the context of theory, which is easier to generate than fact. The medieval physician with the “bird mask” thought he was protecting himself from “miasma”, which was theorized to be the means by which PLAGUE was spread. In fact, the masks’ main function was to hide his identity from his Patient, whom he could not help. The painting makes him appear to be the Grim Reaper himself.

The story of Guaiac, another illustration medieval medicine, is entwined with Syphillis, the stigmatizing STD of post Columbian Europe. Each country blamed Syphillis on its’ rival- the English called it the French disease, for instance-until they were able to blame it on the “new world”. Since it came from the Americas, so must its’ HERBAL REMEDY, according to theory.

GUAIAIC, the resin from the small tree from the Caribbean, became a popular cure. It might have even lessened suffering from Siphillis, since it was used instead of the highly toxic MERCURY.

Guaiac eventually found a use in Criminology, as a test for blood at the crime scene. When Guaiac is mixed with a suspicious spot and peroxide, it changes color rapidly to a bright blue. Medicine later used Guaiac as a test for hidden (occult) Blood In the stool; a positive, brilliant blue test throws suspicion on intestinal cancer as the culprit.

We come full circle to present day mask usage in the Covid epidemic. Some countries outlaw masks because masks interfere with criminal investigation. This interdict had to be relaxed during The Pandemic. How convenient for the rioters and looters in Minnesota!

—Dr. C.