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  Chapter Eight:

  Health of Children
  Health of Adults
  STDs and AIDS
  Illegal Drugs
  Accidental Deaths
  Hospital Patients
  Health Care Costs
  Mental Patients
  Disabled Persons



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Health of Adults

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The infectious diseases that killed great numbers of adults in the early part of the century were largely brought under control. Cancer and cardiovascular diseases became the major killers of adults.
In 1900, tuberculosis caused more deaths than cancer. Equally lethal were the diseases known collectively as “influenza/pneumonia.” Typhoid fever took thousands of lives every year. Children were by no means immune from these infections, but the majority of victims were adults. As happened with the common diseases of childhood, these diseases became much less lethal during the early part of the century, and typhoid fever, like diphtheria, was nearly eliminated by 1960. 

Although the death rate from tuberculosis was close to zero, the number of new cases reported every year did not change much after 1960. New strains of the tuberculosis bacterium that are resistant to the usual antibiotics appeared in the 1990s. 

Influenza/pneumonia—a catchall category rather than a single, reportable disease—included the three main types of viral influenza and several types of viral, bacterial, and fungal infections that cause pneumonia. Influenza epidemics are not uncommon; the worldwide influenza epidemic of 1918 was one of the most destructive in history. Approximately 20 million people died, including about half a million Americans. Separate death rates for influenza and pneumonia are available for the 1990s, but not for earlier years. These data indicate that pneumonia in the 1990s was about one hundred times more life threatening than influenza. 

As the toll of infectious diseases diminished, the majority of Americans at the end of the century lived long enough to die of the degenerative conditions common in older individuals, such as cardiovascular diseases (heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure) and cancer. Progress in the treatment of these conditions was necessarily slower. Cardiac therapies, both surgical and chemical, made impressive advances. Cancer therapies improved more slowly.

Chapter 8 chart 2

Source Notes
Source Abbreviations

HS series B 149, B 159, B 160, and B 157; SA 1974, table 86; SA 1977, table 104; SA 1979, table 110; SA 1980, table 116; SA 1982–1983, table 113; SA 1984, table 109; SA 1988, table 118; SA 1989, table 117; SA 1991, table 116; SA 1993, table 126; SA 1995, table 125; SA 1996, table 129; and SA 1997, table 127. For the influenza epidemic of 1918, see Alfred W. Crosby, America’s Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989). See also American Medical Association, Home Medical Encyclopedia (New York: Random House, 1989), s.v. “influenza” and “pneumonia,” and Encyclopedia Britannica, 14th ed., s.v. “influenza.”


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