Disease in Wartime

February 10, 1942

Report Outline
Prevalence and Possibility of Epidemics
Role of Disease in Past Wars
Preventive Measures in World War Ii
Special Focus

Prevalence and Possibility of Epidemics

Disease, the partner of war, has often caused more deaths in past conflicts between nations than the arms of opposing forces. Conditions favorable to the communication of disease exist wherever large numbers of persons are gathered together; these conditions are intensified when movements of armies and civilian populations are carried out under the stress of war. Soldiers engaged in combat may suffer a lack of food or receive food not properly pre-pared; the men may sleep in cold and rain, and may undergo fatiguing marches which greatly lessen their powers of resistance. Civilians may be congregated for munitions work in areas where housing accommodations are poor, and sanitation facilities are limited. The use of disease as a weapon of war may add to suffering caused by the normal upward trend of disease rates. Dr. Thomas Parran, United States Surgeon General, said on January 12 that “the enemy has planned and in my opinion will use bacteriological warfare wherever possible.”

Warnings of Danger of Wartime Epidemics

A warning that the number of cases of malaria among the armed forces might increase with the occupation of new naval bases acquired from Great Britain was sounded last May, by Dr. Charles S. Stephenson of the Navy's Division of Preventive Medicine. The War Department announced in the autumn that a new type of malaria-transmitting mosquito had been found in Trinidad at the site of one of the bases. For civilians in the United States there is the danger that some of the returning soldiers may become carriers of disease, and may serve as the focus of epidemics in their home communities.

Imminent prospect of an influenza epidemic as severe as that of the first World War was announced in October, 1941, in papers presented before the American Public Health Association by three doctors of the St. Louis Health Division. They noted that influenza had reached epidemic proportions in 25 to 30 per cent of the communities in California in December 1940 and had lain dormant during the summer of 1941, possibly building up its virulence. Nevertheless, the winter of 1941–42 has seen no epidemic of influenza; reports to the United States Health Service for the week ended January 10, 1942, showed only 3,800 cases throughout the nation as compared with 77,820 cases for the corresponding week of 1941.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
United States During World War II
Mar. 13, 1945  The Nation's Health
Aug. 14, 1943  Quality Labeling
Aug. 06, 1943  Voting in 1944
Jul. 27, 1943  Civilian Production in a War Economy
Mar. 08, 1943  Labor Turnover and Absenteeism
Nov. 06, 1942  War Contracts and Profit Limitation
Oct. 10, 1942  Control of Manpower
Aug. 14, 1942  Soldiers and Politics
Jul. 16, 1942  Reduction of Non-War Government Spending
Jul. 08, 1942  Education for War Needs
Jun. 20, 1942  Roll Calls in 1942 Campaign
Jun. 12, 1942  War Shipping and Shipbuilding
Apr. 30, 1942  Forced Evacuations
Apr. 21, 1942  Politics in Wartime
Apr. 14, 1942  Agricultural Import Shortages
Feb. 10, 1942  Disease in Wartime
Jan. 12, 1942  Wartime Rationing
Jun. 19, 1941  Sabotage
Dec. 13, 1940  Shipping and the War
Oct. 24, 1940  Price Control in Wartime
Jul. 20, 1940  Labor in Wartime
Oct. 05, 1937  Alien Political Agitation in the United States
Infectious Diseases
U.S. at War: World War II