Tuesday, September 3, 2013


By Glenna R. Schroeder-Lein

"Catarrh" (the h is silent) was a nineteenth-century term for such respiratory infections as colds and bronchitis, but not the more serious pneumonia. Colds were often listed as "epidemic catarrh."

In addition to contracting measles and other childhood diseases, new recruits in both the Northern and Southern armies soon caught colds, which they often spread to the veterans. At least one doctor commented that recent recruits could be distinguished at night by the amount of coughing coming from their tents.

Many colds worsened into bronchitis, which was also a common aftereffect of a bout with measles. The continuous presence of smoke from campfires undoubtedly worsened many cold and bronchitis cases, as did exposure to bad weather, damp clothes, and lack of proper clothing in cold weather. The number of cases of catarrh and bronchitis usually peaked during the winter and decreased during the summer. Few of these cases were fatal unless they turned into pneumonia.

At the end of June 1862, the Union medical department changed its reporting forms, dropping the term "catarrh" altogether and replacing it with "acute bronchitis."

From: "The Encyclopedia of Civil War Medicine"


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