Fever of War

The Influenza Epidemic in the U.S. Army during World War I

251 pages

17 illustrations

April, 2005

ISBN: 9780814799246

$27

Paper

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Author

Carol R. Byerly worked for the United States Congress and the American Red Cross, taught history at the University of Colorado, and was a research scholar of military medical history for the Office of the Surgeon General of the United States Army.

All books by Carol R Byerly

The startling impact of the 1918 influenza epidemic on the American army, its medical officers, and their profession, a story which has long been silenced

The influenza epidemic of 1918 killed more people in one year than the Great War killed in four, sickening at least one quarter of the world's population. In Fever of War, Carol R. Byerly uncovers medical officers' memoirs and diaries, official reports, scientific articles, and other original sources, to tell a grave tale about the limits of modern medicine and warfare.

The tragedy begins with overly confident medical officers who, armed with new knowledge and technologies of modern medicine, had an inflated sense of their ability to control disease. The conditions of trench warfare on the Western Front soon outflanked medical knowledge by creating an environment where the influenza virus could mutate to a lethal strain. This new flu virus soon left medical officers’ confidence in tatters as thousands of soldiers and trainees died under their care. They also were unable to convince the War Department to reduce the crowding of troops aboard ships and in barracks which were providing ideal environments for the epidemic to thrive. After the war, and given their helplessness to control influenza, many medical officers and military leaders began to downplay the epidemic as a significant event for the U. S. army, in effect erasing this dramatic story from the American historical memory.

Reviews

  • Fever of War adds an important dimension to knowled of the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919.”

    —David Killingray, Goldsmiths College, University of London

  • “It is a must read for anyone interested in military or health care history.”

    Nursing History Review

  • Fever of War is well written, meticulously researched, and poses much food for thought.”

    On Point