The changing faces of diseases

Diseases come in and out of fashion like clothes; from the days of consumption to modern day ailments such as Gulf War Syndrome, they have come and gone over the years, some capturing the worlds attention and other simply slipping under the radar and being virtually ignored. The answer to why this happens is being explored at Northumbria University in new research project that has been hailed as ground breaking.

They aim to answer questions such as why such diseases as SARS and AIDS become global phenomenons while others are ignored. The team will be lead by Dr Clark Lawlor, and they plan to find out why some diseases and medical complaints have been classed as fashionable and even attractive in years gone by, such as Consumption, which was viewed as a beautiful and poetic disease.

They hope that they will also be able to give an insight into today’s policy makers, as well as helping patients who are affected by the diseases they are researching. Dr Lawlor has said that they will be covering everything from gout and consumption from the 18th century right through to today’s ‘thinspiration’ websites that praise anorexia and everything in between, such as SARS and swine flu.

He added that it was his goal to address the little understood medical and cultural phenomenon of why diseases fall in and out of favour, often at alarming speed. He added that no research had ever answered the question of why a disease becomes fashionable, or how they were formed, maintained for a while, then removed from history as if they had never existed.

The project is expected to last for 3 years, and has received funding in the form of a £250,000 grant courtesy of the Leverhulme Trust. It will be examining literature, culture and medicine between the years of 1660-1832, then comparing and contrasting their findings with the same topics in the present day.