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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Diagnosing Fevers

By Robert E. Denney

The varieties of fevers that plagued the troops weren't always diagnosed properly, if at all. One of the major problems was the tools available to the doctors.

Thermometers were available, but not generally used for diagnosis. Few, if any, laboratories were available to assist the doctors. The fever that laid so many low in the area of the Potomac was called, naturally, the Potomac Fever. The problem in diagnosis was its identity. Was it typhus, malaria, remittent, bilious, or some other fever?

The Army of the Potomac decided to appoint a Board of Inquiry to determine the cause of the fevers and to recommend steps to prevent them. One such board studied the epidemic that was prevalent in the 10th Massachusetts, and to the overwork of the men in building fortifications. No mention was made of the water supply (one of the real culprits), or of the methods in which latrines and garbage pits were used (another culprit). Their only recommendation was to reduce the number of men in each of the tents from 16 to 10. This was a good idea in any event, personal hygiene being what is was at that time.

From: "Civil War Medicine: Care & Comfort of the Wounded"

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