William Budd Biography (1811-1880)

physician, epidemiologist

In an era when other physicians were "noncontagionists" and believed that infectious diseases were either "atmospheric" (airborne), arose from filth and neglect, or developed spontaneously in the soil, William Budd was a firm believer that infectious diseases, particularly cholera and typhoid, were contagious--that they were transmitted from one person to another through excrement.This theory was a forerunner to Louis Pasteur's germ theory.

Budd was born in the small town of North Tawton, Devon, to Samuel Budd, a surgeon, and Catherine Wreford, who came from an old Devon family. Budd was oneof 10 children and the fifth of nine boys. All children received their earlyeducation at home; however, after Samuel inherited land from his grandfather,an Anglican minister, they were sent to prestigious universities. Six becamedoctors--three graduating from Edinburgh and three from Cambridge.

Budd's education was prolonged because of a severe attack of typhoid fever, which interrupted his studies at École de Médecine in Paris, where he finally finished in 1837 to attend Edinburgh University to complete hisM.D. He graduated in 1838 to practice general medicine in North Tawton, andwas appointed assistant physician to the Seaman's Hospital in Greenwich 18 months later. Between 1839 and 1840, he studied more than 80 cases of typhoid at North Tawton, arriving at the conclusion that the "poisons" of the diseasegrew and multiplied in the intestines of the victim and were "cast off" in that person's excretions. Whatever these "poisons" were, he concluded (correctly) they contaminated water supplies and infected individuals who drank that water. He believed the same to be true of cholera and, against popular opinion, he implemented public health measures promoting the importance of disinfection and keeping water supplies clean and uncontaminated with sewage. In thisway, he successfully curbed the 1866 outbreak of cholera in Bristol.

Budd applied his contagion theory to many other diseases, including diphtheria, scarlet fever, tuberculosis, and sheep-pox. He contended that "each specific agent of contagion multiplies at certain sites within the sick host, is eliminated and transported by definite routes, and can be destroyed or interrupted in its passage to other susceptible hosts." Even after publishing a compilation of his years of study in a classic monograph called Typhoid Fever (1873), many of his contemporaries continued to insist his theory was incorrect.

A severe second illness, which he believed to be a return of typhoid, forcedBudd's early retirement from Seaman's Hospital. He moved to Bristol and spentthe rest of his career at St. Peter's Hospital, Bristol Medical Center, andBristol Royal Infirmary. He founded the Bristol Microscopical and Pathological societies, and served 10 years as a councilor and ultimately became president of the Bath and Bristol Provincial Medical and Surgical Association. He gave important evidence before the Royal Sanitary Commission in 1869, and was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1871 because of his views on epidemics and the spread of infectious diseases.

Budd married Caroline Mary Hilton, the daughter of a landowner, in 1847 and they had nine children. Although otherwise healthy, he suffered from attacks of severe headaches and, later in life, from nervous exhaustion believed due to overwork. He became an invalid after a stroke in 1873, and he died in a small town called Clevedon by the sea. He was reputed for his warm humanity, sense of obligation to pass on his medical knowledge, and to improve public health. His logic and conviction about disease communication placed him ahead ofhis time and earned him the praise of John Tyndall as "a man of highest genius whose doctrines are now everywhere victorious."

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