Germ Theory, Contagion and Sexually Transmitted Disease discussion

For individual discussions, you will generally be required to post a response of at least 200 words to a topic of your choice. Each prompt includes introductory explanation plus several questions. Each topic response should focus on a relevant issue you wish to examine and should make a thoughtful, well-developed argument. Close reading and use of quotation is encouraged. Use parenthetical page or electronic location numbers for citation, ie. (148). Before responding to the prompts, read prior posts, especially any that have been highlighted by the instructor. If particular questions have already been answered satisfactorily, choose other questions to address. Strive to avoid producing repetitive responses; instead, try to bring something new to the conversation to keep it moving forward.


Topic 6 – Germ Theory, Contagion, Sexually Transmitted Disease


Germ theory, which argues that diseases can be caused by microorganisms invisible to the naked eye, was developed at the end of the nineteenth century with advances in microscopes and the scientific research of Louis Pasteur and others. Germ theory explains how pathogens cause infectious disease and spread from host to host. The rise of germ theory led to profound social and medical concerns about contagion.

Of the many infectious diseases common in the nineteenth century, one of the most damaging and frightening was syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease. In addition to immediate symptoms, infection with syphilis produced horrible long term consequences. Eventually infected individuals’ faces would become horrifically deformed by the disease and they would ultimately experience dementia associated with violent aggression. One of the worst consequences of the disease was that it could be passed during pregnancy to the fetus, causing an infant to be born with a congenital syphilis, which was fatal. There was no cure for syphilis until the discovery of antibiotics in the mid twentieth century.

The panic associated with syphilis in the nineteenth century led to the blaming of men and women deemed sexually promiscuous, and attempts were made to control sexuality and to regulate prostitution via the Contagious Diseases Acts. Anxiety about syphilis also appeared in the literature of the period, though in a veiled form as sex was not a topic that could be discussed openly in polite society in that era.

A parallel in our own time to the plague of syphilis is HIV/AIDS.

Consider the following questions.

(1) In what ways do the novel Dracula and the film Nosferatu play upon fears of infection and contagion?

(2) How do these works represent sexually transmitted disease? How do they express contemporary fears about syphilis?

(3) Can the resurgence of vampire literature and films since the 1980 be linked to AIDS panic? Is the connection between vampires and sexually transmitted disease still relevant today as a way of thinking through the perils of sexual intimacy? How does this preoccupation with STDS resonate in modern vampire stories like Francis Ford Coppola’s film Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the series True Blood, or the Twilight saga?

Respond to one or more of these questions, including support from the novel in the form of specific examples and quotation with parenthetical citation (page or electronic location numbers).

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