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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Disease and Infection

From nps.gov

Nearly two thirds of deaths during the war resulted from various diseases that plagued the soldiers, and 39% of soldiers who died from wounds received in battle, actually died from infection that set in after treatment. In all, Union Physicians treated an estimated 600,000 cases of disease ranging from childhood illnesses, such as Mumps and Measles, to Venereal Disease.

Diarrhea and Dysentery were the most commonly treated of all the illnesses and also responsible for the most deaths. In fact, during the first 2 years of the war, 27% of all diseases treated by onfederate doctors were some form of the diarrheal illnesses. Considered to be a “miasmatic” (coming from bad air) illness, the original treatment was to purge the body of any “irritating food or secretions” dehydrating a patient even further before morphine was administered. If given early enough, the painkiller, which also has properties to induce constipation, could save a soldier’s life.
Hospital Gangrene was probably one of the most feared of any disease. The infection presented itself initially as a black spot on a slowly healing wound. As the infection progressed, the black spot spread slowly through the wound and then on to perfectly healthy tissue, turning the once pink tissue to a mass of rotting flesh. Amputation was usually the end result; but before that extreme measure was taken, doctors tried a number of things including cauterizing the infected flesh with silver nitrate and even packing the wound with lint soaked in turpentine.

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