National Geographic : 1918 Jun
HOSPITAL HEROES CONVICT THE "COOTIE" IT WOULD be highly appropriate if the United States Government were to confer a special decoration upon sixty-six young American soldiers who have displayed unspectacular, but unsur passed, courage in France, a courage that dared wasting illness, in a hospital sub ject to the bombardment of Hun shells, in order that future millions who are to make their way from our shores to the battle front may be spared the suffering and the disabilities of trench fever. The courage which these sixty-six boys have evinced differs greatly from that in duced by the battle call which sends men shouting "over the top." In volunteering to undergo tests which have identified trench fever as a germ disease they knew what they were facing-months, perhaps a year, of illness, of voluntary imprison ment in a hospital ward, of removal from all the activities and the excitement of the soldier's life in a foreign land, and from the companionship of comrades in arms. They were, necessarily, men in perfect health, many of them wholly unac customed to, and therefore dreading, the strangenessof hospital wards, of surgeons, of medicines, of blood injections, etc. THE INOCULATION TESTS The knowledge which these heroic sixty-six, by offering up their virile bod ies to a disease test, have enabled science to acquire may prove the determining factor in the world war, for it may mean the conquest of trench fever, just as the sacrifices of a smaller group of men 18 years ago enabled Walter Reed and his associates to identify the mosquito as the insect which carries yellow fever. Once the source of the contagion was discov ered the fight against yellow fever was more than half won. The experiments conducted on Amer ica's Sixty-six have fastened the guilt of contagion-bearing upon the body louse, the "cootie," of which Mr. Corey writes in the preceding pages. The first question studied was whether this was a germ disease. No germs could be seen with the microscope, but the U. S. Medical Department knew that there are numerous germs which cannot be seen by even the most powerful magnification. Therefore this point had to be established by taking blood from men with the fever and injecting it into healthy men. Out of 34 such individuals inoculated with blood, or some constituent thereof, taken from seven cases of trench fever, 23 volunteers developed the disease. Out of 16 healthy men inoculated with whole blood from a trench-fever case, 15 developed the dis ease. These experiments proved that trench fever is a germ disease, and that the germs live in the blood of men so in fected. LEARNING HOW THE DISEASE IS SPREAD The next question was, "How is this disease spread?" Naturally, the body louse was to be considered first. Large numbers of these were collected from patients with trench fever, and also some of the same kind were brought from Eng land, having been collected from healthy men. The lice from trench-fever cases were allowed to bite 22 men. Twelve of these later developed the disease, while four men bitten by lice from healthy men remained free from the disease. Eight other volunteers, living under exactly the same conditions, in the same wards, but kept free from lice, did not develop trench fever. After blood inoculation the disease developed in from 5 to 20 days. After being bitten by infected lice the fever required from 15 to 35 days to de velop. With such data in their possession, the medical departments of the Allies have taken up the problem of the "cootie" in its bearing upon the supreme question of winning the war. Until recently the odious vermin have been considered only in the light of bodily annoyances to the troops, in some cases having a certain effect on their morale. Now, however, the battle is on in earnest to rid the men of the disease-bearers, for when a man falls.a victim to trench fever he is, in the aver age case, unfit as a fighter for six months. It is a simple problem in multiplica tion to appreciate how tremendously America's Sixty-six may have contrib uted to the power of our blows against the Huns by giving science the informa tion which will result in keeping our sol diers fit for service.