Recording medical history: 90 years of public health as told by the Weekly Epidemiological Record

On 1 April 1926, a small team of epidemiologists in the Health Office of the League of Nations, Geneva, laboured to bring forth the first Weekly Epidemiological Record (WER). The publication was tasked with a major mission: providing the world with information about disease hazards that, at that time, mostly travelled by sea: plague, cholera, yellow fever, typhus and smallpox. Had they been alive today, it would be interesting to ask those epidemiological midwives whether they imagined that the WER would still be going strong, still informing the world about health threats, 90 years later...

This timeline starts with the birth of the WER in 1926, marking milestones through the years: epidemics, technological breakthroughs, the establishment of the World Health Organization in 1948, the conquest of infectious disease scourges, such as smallpox in 1979 and the ongoing battle against new and re-emerging infectious diseases.

1926-04-01 15:24:34

First issue of Weekly epidemiological record (WER)

On 1st April 1926, the Health Office of the Secretariat of the League of Nations published the first issue of the Weekly Epidemiological Record (WER). The WER was initially tasked with informing the world about disease hazards that, at that time, mostly travelled by sea: cholera, plague, yellow fever and typhoid fever.

1927-06-27 10:30:39

Yellow fever virus first isolated

The yellow fever virus was first isolated in Nigeria in 27 June 1927, (known as the Asahi strain) then in 1928 a separate strain was isolated in Dakar (the French strain). This then led to development of the first yellow fever vaccine.

1928-09-28 08:20:58

Discovery of penicillin by Sir Alexander Fleming

The fortuitous discovery of penicillin on a mouldy Petri dish by Alexander Fleming launched a new era in medicine. This natural compound, produced by the Penicillium fungus, was found to be toxic to bacteria, but safe for use in humans. The use of penicillin in World War II is credited with saving the lives of hundreds of thousands.

1931-06-27 10:30:39

Plague vaccine

Live attenuated vaccine developed by J. Robic and G. Girard at Madagascar became the first effective plague vaccine. In the following years, mass vaccination campaigns reduced the incidence of the disease in that country tenfold.

1933-10-01 08:28:54

Isolation of Influenza A virus

Influenza A virus, which, when it undergoes ‘antigenic shift’ can cause pandemic influenza, was isolated.

1940-09-28 08:20:58

Penicillin resistant Staphylococcus identified

The discoverer of penicillin, Alexander Fleming, first warned of the potential importance of the development of resistance. Soon the evidence became alarming. In 1946, a hospital in the United Kingdom reported that 14% of all Staphylococcus aureus infections were resistant to penicillin. By 1950, this proportion had increased to 59%. In the 1990s, penicillin-resistant S. aureus had attained levels greater than 80% both in hospitals and in the community.

1944-03-06 10:30:39

Discovery of the first anti-tuberculosis drug streptomycin

The antibiotic streptomycin was discovered by Schatz A., Bugie E. and Waksman S. Its therapeutic introduction has saved many lives since then.

1945-10-01 08:28:54

Agreement to set up the first global health organization

The United Nations Conference in San Francisco, USA, held from 25 April to 26 June, unanimously approved the establishment of a new, autonomous international health organization.

1946-07-01 08:28:54

Constitution of the World Health Organization adopted

On 22 July 1946, 61 member states of the UN adopted and signed the Constitution of the World Health Organization at the International Health Conference in New York .

1947-09-01 06:27:17

Establishment of the WHO Influenza Control Programme

Concerns that antigenic shift could lead to an influenza pandemic on the scale of the 1918–1919 pandemic prompted the World Health Organization to establish an influenza surveillance programme, providing information about the epidemiology of the disease and enabling updating of vaccine formulations. The World Influenza Centre was eventually set up at the National Institute for Medical Research in London with responsibility for collecting and distributing information, carrying out and coordinating laboratory work on influenza and training laboratory workers.

Recording medical history: 90 years of public health as told by the Weekly Epidemiological Record

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