As Memorial Day arrives to herald the start of summer, it’s time to pause in remembrance of U.S. Armed Forces members who lost their lives during service to their country. And, over the course of time, hundreds of thousands of those lives were claimed by silent soldiers that have no loyalty to country or flag, with no respect for borders: infectious diseases.
During the U.S. Civil War, disease claimed more lives than bullets; upwards of two-thirds of deaths in the war were attributed to disease. Smallpox, along with dysentery, typhoid fever, scarlet fever, measles, malaria, consumption (tuberculosis) and a host of other infectious diseases, cut a swath through soldiers on both sides.
Often before they even faced their human enemies, soldiers were hit by a wave of infection, soon after arrival in camp. Those from rural areas were most vulnerable, lacking the immunity to childhood diseases those from urban areas often had. And, disease epidemics played a significant role in halting several major campaigns during the Civil War, with these delays prolonging the fighting by as much as two years. (more…)