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Genetic abnormalities, unusual deformities, and infectious and neoplastic diseases (tumors) were often left untreated prior to the advent of anesthesia and aseptic surgery. Before these medical advances, the general public feared pain, infection and complications from treatment, if treatment was even available. Photographs of individuals with congenital deformities who exhibited themselves to earn a living are a highlight. Some photographs from the Burns Medical Curiosities Collection have become iconic representations of the extremes of disease, such as the photograph of the seventeen-year-old girl with elephantiasis due to a common childhood infection.

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