Sept. 20, 2007 — -- Whether it's the technology that allows us to peer deep into the body or medicines that extend the lives of those with chronic diseases, it's easy to see how advances in health and medicine have touched the lives of nearly every person on the planet.
Yet considering the ubiquitous nature of these developments, it is easy to see how many people take for granted the technologies and practices that, at one point or another, almost certainly saved their own lives or the lives of people they've loved.
The list below encompasses 10 advances in health and medical practices that have changed -- and in many ways continue to change -- the world today.
Throughout history, communicable diseases have had a tremendous impact on human history. So too, then, has the development of one of the most effective ways to defend against rampant viral infection -- vaccination.
Dr. Edward Jenner first introduced the idea of vaccinations in 1796, when he successfully prevented a young English boy from getting smallpox.
The concept of vaccination was propelled further by scientists such as Louis Pasteur, and in the modern era, when large groups of soldiers were successfully vaccinated in World War I and II against such diseases as tetanus, diphtheria and typhus.
"Polio vaccine is one that people think of because it had such an impact," said Dr. Jeffrey Baker, director of the history of medicine program at the Duke University School of Medicine.
But from the global health standpoint, Baker said Jenner's introduction of the smallpox vaccine may have had an even more significant impact in terms of lives saved.
Without a doubt, surgery used to be a much graver proposition than it is today. One of the chief reasons for this is that before the middle of the 19th century, anesthetic simply wasn't an option.
That changed Oct. 16, 1846, when William T.G. Morton demonstrated the mysterious wonder of ether -- a substance powerful enough to dull the pain and agony that had long been associated with surgery.
But while anesthetic was a great advance in and of itself, another advance that occurred at roughly the same time may have been even more beneficial -- antisepsis, or the creation of a sterile surgical environment.
"Anesthetic made it possible to operate on a patient without pain," Baker notes, "but without antisepsis they'd die anyway."