Infectious disease remains a major cause of death in the developing world and one likely at any moment to destablize health in the developed world too. Richard Mead (1673-1754), a physician at St Thomas’ Hospital was commissioned by the government in 1720 to produce a report on methods to treat epidemics such as the plague. His “Short discourse Concerning Pestilential Contagion and Methods to be Used to Prevent it” made a number of practical and theoretical innovations, including the advice to separate the sick from the healthy and the observation that fabrics could transmit plague, Mead conducted trials of smallpox inoculations among the condemned prisoners at Newgate Goal, and his report in 1747 helped to establish the practice of inoculation in England.
Inspired by witnessing the ghastly conditions in military hospitals during the Crimean war, Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) helped lead the revolution of hospital care and design in the 19th century. She went on to found the country’s first professional nursing school at St Thomas’ Hospital, where her work is celebrated in the Florence Nightingale Museum.
Joseph Lister (1827-1912) during his fifteen years at King’s developed his practice of antiseptic surgery which changed the outlook for future surgery. By 1910 post operative mortality for major operations reduced from 40 per cent to less than three per cent and Lister’s principle – that bacteria must never gain entry to an operation wound – remains a basic principle of surgery to this day. Importantly, these improvements permitted surgeons to be bolder in tackling more severe internal, previously inoperable cases increasing survival from diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases and birth defects, and enhancing our understanding of them.
In more recent times, Jangu Banatvala and Jenny Best, working at St Thomas', were the first to visualise rubella virus by electron microscopy and then played a major role in the testing and evaluation of candidate rubella vaccines. Since the introduction of vaccination into the U.K. in 1970, the incidence of congenital rubella syndrome has fallen to a handful of cases per year. In the meantime, Cedric Mims had become the Professor of Microbiology at Guy's and led a renowned programme of research into the pathogenesis of various viral infections, such as lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus,(LCMV), focusing in particular on viral persistence as well as innate and adaptive immunity.
King’s continues its legacy of research into infectious disease. The Department of Infectious Diseases is focusing its research on understanding and finding treatments for HIV. Understanding the molecular events affecting HIV-host interactions leading to the basic event in HIV infection – the invasion of T-cells by the virus – is crucial for the development of effective drugs and vaccines.