Enslaved African Americans were more vulnerable than whites to respiratory infections, thanks to poorly constructed slave shacks that admitted winter cold and summer heat. Slaves’ immune systems were unfamiliar with, or naïve to, microbes that caused various pneumonias and tuberculosis. Parasitic infections and abysmal nutrition also undermined blacks’ immunological rigor. Before antibiotics and sterile technique, surgery was an often-fatal affair. Unaware of the connection between bacteria and infection, surgeons operated in their street clothes and with dirty hands in filthy environments, such as the shacks that served as “slave hospitals.” Even minor incisions or injuries could proceed to life-threatening infections with frightening rapidity.
Washington, Harriet A. (2008-01-08). Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present (p. 29). Random House, Inc..