Sunday, March 9, 2014

Consumption and Typhoid Fever

By Gordon Chaney

Of the many diseases that killed fighting men in the Civil War few killed as many men as Typhoid Fever and Tuberculosis. These diseases were some of the most deadly to ever hit the soldiers and constituted many deaths on both the Union and Confederate sides.

Typhoid fever is a disease that is characterized by diarrhea and a rash with many other symptoms ranging from severe headache to delirium. It is caused by the bacteria Salmonella tyhpi. This bacteria is spread by food or drink that is contaminated with fecal matter, cooks with this disease readily pass this disease onto others. After the bacteria is ingested it travels to the spleen to multiply. Then the disease manifests as a fever and diarrhea which can lead to dehydration.

Typhoid fever was grouped collectively of disease called Camp Fever. During the years of the war itself Union records show that almost 30,000 soldiers died from this particular disease. The squalid conditions of many camps as well as lack of understanding about bacteria and disease transmission lead to this high number of deaths. Fecal matter as well as dead bodies contaminated streams causing the disease to spread.

Treatment of the day consisted of the few trained doctors giving a mixture of mercury and chalk to the afflicted. America at the time lacked the proper medical professionals to handle such a large scale war. Also used were opium, morphine and quinine to treat the diseased.

Tuberculosis was often colloquially known as Consumption, or phthsis, which describes the wasting condition of many patients. An estimated 13,000 died of this disease during the course of the war but many others were sent home to waste away. The usual treatment of sending the patient to sanitariums could not be accomplished due to combat. Usual treatments during the Civil War period including sending patients away for 'fresh' air or during their sanitarium stay having a surgery to decrease lung capacity. But as mentioned early these procedures proved to be ineffective and often times patients were just sent home to die.

Diseases during the Civil War caused a revolution to the teaching of medicine in America. Before the war many medically professionals had just apprenticed under a doctor or at best two years of medical training. During the war itself Surgeons from Vermont and Ohio were know to have been trained well but few others had this reputation. After the war the need for medical schools was proven and the thus began a new era of medicine in the United States.



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