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Mexican-American War

Nearly 90% of US Army deaths during the Mexican-American War were Due to Infectious Diseases. This was the Highest of Any US Conflict.

The Mexican-American War between the United States and the Intervención estadounidense en México in Mexico was an armed war between the United States and Mexico that lasted from 1846 to 1848. It followed the annexation of Texas by the United States in 1845, which Mexico deemed Mexican territory. But did you know what caused 90% of US Army deaths during that time?

During the Mexican-American War, infectious diseases claimed approximately 90% of US Army casualties, the most significant rate of any US conflict.

The War Infectious Diseases

The Mexican War was the bloodiest of all American wars regarding disease mortality. The disease killed nearly 13% of the whole US military force. Of the 12,535 battle deaths, 10,986 were caused by infectious diseases, mostly dysentery, both bacterial and amoebic; seven men perished from sickness for every man killed by Mexican musket balls. Camp pollution was the most serious mistake made by US forces during the Mexican War.

The indifference of line officers and recruits to the importance of adequate sanitation and military hygiene fueled dysentery outbreaks, while poor conditions in military hospitals aided disease spread. This flaw in military culture jeopardized the army’s health and resulted in a medical calamity. Disease wreaked havoc on the United States. Army resources were depleted, unit morale was low, and strategy and tactics were impacted. As we approach the twenty-first century, dysentery remains a severe public health issue, killing hundreds of thousands of people each year, particularly children in poorer nations with inadequate personal hygiene and indiscriminate disposal of human and animal waste. (Source: National Library of Medicine)

What is Dysentery?

One of the infectious diseases during the Mexican-American war was dysentery, an infection of the intestines that caused bloody or mucousy diarrhea.

Other dysentery symptoms include:

  • excruciating stomach cramps
  • being unwell or feeling sick (vomiting)
  • a high temperature

Dysentery is highly contagious and can be spread if proper precautions are not taken, such as correctly and consistently washing your hands. (Source: NHS)

Types of Dysentery

Dysentery is classified into two types:

  • The most common type of dysentery in the UK is bacillary dysentery or shigellosis, which is caused by shigella bacteria.
  • Amoebic dysentery, also known as amoebiasis, is caused by an amoeba (single-celled parasite) called Entamoeba histolytica, which is found primarily in tropical places; this type of dysentery is typically acquired overseas.

(Source: NHS)

Treating Dysentery

Dysentery usually clears up on its own after 3 to 7 days. Medication is rarely required. However, it is critical to consume enough fluids and, if necessary, utilize oral rehydration treatments to avoid dehydration. Pain relievers, such as paracetamol, can relieve pain and fever. Anti-diarrhea medications, such as loperamide, should be avoided because they aggravate the situation.
To limit the danger of spreading the infection to others, you should stay home for at least 48 hours following the last bout of diarrhea. (Source: NHS)

Image from HistoryGuild

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