It would be nice to see actual ideas of numbers for given treatments and how effective they were. Over history there were many different ways of treating small pox and I think it is disingenuous to suggest that mainstream medicine was always the best way. It was often a terrible way.
That doesn't mean that alternatives were necessarily better however. Or that it was vaccination in the case of small pox that caused deaths. A common method at the time was sweating out the fever. Sydenham (mentioned by Mirzam and who made important contributions to medicine and wasn't just a "crank" and certainly wasn't a homeopath as he was a strong proponent of the use of laudanum in treating disease) thought that cooling the patient was better. Here was his treatment:
Another apprentice was Thomas Dover. He had first-hand experience of the merits of Sydenham's cooling regimen when he himself caught smallpox.
"In the beginning I lost twenty-two ounces of blood [wrote Dover]40 in the Ancient Physician's Legacy. He gave me a vomit, but I find by experience purging much better. I went abroad by
his direction till I was blind, and then took to my bed. I had no fire allowed in my room, my windows were constantly open, my bedclothes were ordered to be laid no higher than my waist.
He made me take 12 bottles of small beer acidulated with spirits of vitriol every 24 hours
The author of the paper linked above suggests that common treatment methods at the time overheated and dehydrated the patients and that often led to death. Now, it's difficult for me to see how bleeding over half a liter, inducing vomiting, and drinking a beer laced with alcohol every 2 hours would fail to cause dehydration, but maybe most physicians were doing that - they were just also adding lots of blankets to the mix. I don't know. But man, it is so interesting.
ETA: I don't know enough about historic medicine! "Spirits of vitriol" is sulfuric acid, not liquor! I guess that's why the beer was "acidulated", duh. What a great name.
Edited by cwill - 10/15/13 at 11:20am