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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Fevers

FEVERS
By Glenna R. Schroeder-Lein

Fevers of numerous types were common to soldiers both North and South during the Civil War. Doctors tended to consider a fever to be itself a disease rather than a symptom. As physicians diagnosed and categorized these fevers, they often used terms unfamiliar in the twenty-first century. All the fevers involved an elevated temperature in the patient, but beyond that their characteristics varied.

Eruptive fevers included those diseases that caused skin eruptions or spots. Among the illnesses in this category were measles, smallpox, and scarlet fever. They were understood to be contagious.

Intermittent fevers were associated with malaria. The name described the periodic nature of the attacks of the disease. Sometimes doctors added the descriptors "quotidian", "tertian", or "quartan" to indicate thatthe symptoms returned daily, every other day, or every third day, respectively.

Continued fevers were those in which the patient's temperature did not return to normal at all, but remained elevated. For the Confederates this term included typhoid fever, typhus fever, and other less defined illnesses. Union doctors stopped using this diagnostic term in July 1862.

Remittent fever was one of the most common. Doctors recorded 286,490 cases among white Union troops and a proportional number among black soldiers. In remittent fever, the patient's temperature varied several degrees daily but did not return to normal. This diagnostic classification could be applied to  variety of diseases and would be equivalent to the contemporary "fever of unknown origin." Remittent fever patients had a low death rate.

The general term "camp fever" was applied to a number of diseases such as yellow fever, typhoid fever, malaria, typhomalarial fever, and continued fever.

From: "The Encyclopedia of Civil War Medicine"


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