American Revolution and Smallpox Essay Example

During the years of the American Revolution, the leaders of the Continental Army knew that smallpox was a threat to their men because they were together in large groups. The person in charge, George Washington, took major steps to try and avoid this outbreak. Not only was it a threat for people in the war but a threat to the citizens of the colonies. 

Smallpox is a highly infectious disease. This rapidly spreading illness is airborne and is contracted by breathing it in. This can be a deadly disease and the case of mortality can be as high as 30%. The people that live have a high probability of having severe scarring. As the American Revolution approached smallpox to become more of a threat. Soldiers from England had already been previously exposed to this sickness so the carried it over to the colonies when the revolution started. Men from all around North American came to fight in this war together created many people in one small space. Since this disease spreads quickly between people who are close together because they are breathing the same air it was inevitable what was going to happen. By the fall of 1775, Boston suffered from a widespread smallpox outbreak that threatened to spread throughout the ranks of Washington's army. 

The American colonists might have gone for years without any exposure to smallpox. It is difficult to track smallpox deaths during the Revolutionary War, but people think that Washington’s army lost more troops to disease such as smallpox than in combat. One study suggests that for every soldier who fell to the British, ten died from some sort of disease.

 Smallpox can take up to fourteen days before a person exposed to the smallpox virus will show symptoms. Some of these symptoms include fever, headaches, body pains, and eventually the rash with red bumps everywhere. Death often comes within about two weeks. Survivors can take up to a month to recover fully; they are left with scars, but also lifetime immunity. For the survivors, it was good to be over the disease but in the end, smallpox killed many troops in the war.

George Washington and the smallpox disease 

George Washington had already been exposed to smallpox prior to the outbreak in his army. He contracted the disease when he was only nineteen visiting Barbados in November of 1751. It lasted about one month and left him with little to no scarring. Having him immune to the disease benefited the war in great amounts. Once the men get smallpox they can not get it again. He could not contact the disease when his men were. This could make it so he could be a great leader to this army without having to worry about getting this deadly sickness.

Smallpox affected Washington's army in many ways while fighting in the revolutionary war. Major General Thomas said to George Washington on May 8, 1776 “I examined into the state of the army, and found by the returns there were 1900 men. Of this number only 1000 were fit for duty, Officers included; the remainder were Invalids, chiefly confined with the smallpox.” This excerpt from this letter is saying that only about half of the men are actually fit to fight in the battles of New York. The reason for this is the rapidly spreading smallpox disease that the other half had contracted. 

George Washington fully believed that inoculation in the colonies but he expected the British to attack soon so he did not want his army to get inoculated right before this happened. Need to set the time when this happened. Inoculation would make it so his army was down with smallpox for a month. Washington eventually made a system where new recruits to the army would be inoculated with smallpox immediately upon enlistment. As a result, soldiers would contract the milder form of the disease at the same time that they were being outfitted with uniforms and weapons. Soldiers would be completely healed, inoculated, and supplied by the time they left to join the army. 

As a result of this, they inoculated the people in the army who were at risk for the disease, so many people had to go to the hospital. The mandatory inoculations were done in secret — small groups of men at a time — so as not to alert the British, who might have taken advantage of the situation had they known about it. Smallpox also impacted the recruitment of soldiers into the Continental Army. No one wanted to contract this disease that was running rampant throughout the army. It scared people that the could get sick and possibly die from joining the army.

Authorities confronted the problem of smallpox by introducing Inoculation. It was a very great solution for people in the colonies when the outbreak of smallpox occurred. People who had never had smallpox tended to avoid inoculating themselves and their children until a crisis appeared during the Revolutionary War. Early efforts of inoculation probably did not go over very well and most likely many people did not like the idea. They did not like the fact that they would be injecting the disease into them and possibly infecting them instead of avoiding the illness. There was an outrage. Inoculation was successful because fewer than 1% of the people died from inoculation. Among the affluent Patriots who secured inoculation were Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Martha Washington These people made it so doctors trusted the procedure to do it on the general public.

The way they inserted the inoculation was a physician took an infected patients pus with a knife or scalpel and then inserted the infected blade under the skin of a healthy person into a small localized wound. A healthy person was more likely to survive the infection than if they had acquired the disease naturally through aerosolized viral particles.   

Most of the time the inoculated person contracted the disease, but in a much milder form. At the same time, Washington’s troops were inoculated he ordered the local population to be inoculated as well so everyone would be immune. He did this by embracing science instead of by getting put into the mindset of fear.

When creating the idea of inoculation scientists and physicians at that time were unaware of the idea of pathogens, they guessed correctly that the disease was spread by human contact; from particles in the air, for instance, and that breathing dispersed these particles onto other humans by direct and indirect contact, such as through particles that lived on pieces of cloth or clothing. In medical circles the term commonly used was “Variola.” This is how they knew that if they made physical contact inevitable by putting the disease in another person the healthy person would contract it. There was no real science behind it just guesses that happened to be correct.



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