Influence of First World War on the Medical Field

Published: 2019-10-24 08:00:00
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The First World War was battled between the year 1914 and 1919 on a magnitude that was never witnessed before. Due to this reason, new techniques and equipment were developed during the four years of battle which cut across all sectors, such as medicine, technology, weapons and communication (Ahsan, 2016). The challenges that were faced by nations and individuals during the war were intense such that they had to formulate new methods to cope with the problems. The field of medicine was one of the major sectors that were affected by the war. War is often correlated to new findings in the medical sector (Bowater, 2014). Some of the findings influence the medical field relatively low while other discoveries have created a significant influence on the acknowledgement of the human body and the effects of the war trauma on the body and mind. Serious injuries and deaths were experienced at large scale during the First World War and the healthcare system had to develop and utilize new healthcare and medical inventions to curb the rate of deaths and injuries. Soldiers were the first in line to be inflicted with wounds hence they benefited from the medical inventions as well as the human race.

Challenges that Arose from the First World War and how they led to Subsequent Medical Inventions

The medical sector had to keep up with the new inventions in techniques of killing. Guns and cannons took over from swords and spears. The nature of injuries evolved and due to this concept, the new types of treatment had to be formulated and utilized to make sure that a healthy fighting force is put in place. New methods to curb the infections that have been historically correlated to the military created another problem for healthcare professionals. For example, during the World War 1, mobile bacteriological facilities were utilized to reduce the effect of infection on the fighting force.

There was a massive blood loss for the soldiers who were in battle. Previously, the machines were large and heavy thus they could only be utilized in healthcare facilities. Blood transfusion had to be carried out in the battle field. It was being transferred from one individual to another. It was during this period, when a doctor in the U.S. Army discovered that blood needs to be stored before the victims arrive (Ahsan, 2016). The first blood bank was established in 1917 on the Western Front (Ahsan, 2016). Sodium citrate was used to prevent blood coagulation which would render it unusable (Ahsan, 2016). Blood coagulates during bacterial infection or sepsis. This improved the understanding of bacterial infections and serious diseases such as anthrax and sepsis. Blood was stored for up to 28 days whereby it was then transferred to the casualties healthcare facilities for life-saving surgery where it was fundamentally required. Blood banks improved the status of blood transfusion till the modern times.

During the First World War, the Eastern front soldiers, were affected by typhus which is a bacterial disease caused by Rickettsia typhi (Bowater, 2014). 15,000 soldiers died in Serbia alone due to typhus (Bowater, 2014). 10 to 40 percent of casualties in the healthcare facilities were affected by typhus (Bowater, 2014). The disease also affected the individuals who nursed the sick and was a major source of death for the healthcare practitioners who treated the typhus victims. The disease caused 3 million deaths between 1918 and 1922 (Bowater, 2014). However, the bacterial disease was researched on and DDT was discovered to kill the lice which infested millions of displaced people and refugees (Bowater, 2014). Hence, the discovery assisted in acknowledging more hygienic approaches of the civilians and the military.

Trench foot and trench mouth are bacterial diseases that affected soldiers during the First World War (Bowater, 2014). They were caused by cold, wet, and unclean environments. The trenches used in the First World War were water clogged. The soldiers would lie in the trenches and/or walk in them without removing their boots or socks. The skin would change into blue or red colour whilst the feet would constantly go numb. If the feet would not be treated on time, the soldier had to be amputated (Bowater, 2014). Soldiers were advised to possess three pairs of socks and change their socks twice per day. Trench mouth would lead to bleeding teeth and gums, and constantly decompose the jaws of the victims. It would spread to lips, cheeks, and jawbone. The bad conditions of the trenches influenced a disease epidemic of these infections. The medical sector had to improve on their prevention and treating methods of these bacterial infections that had killed quite a large number of soldiers. Bacteriology research advanced due to this epidemic. However, most soldiers died of trench foot and trench mouth at the start of the war but deaths reduced later during the war which has improved its understanding in the modern medical sector.

In the modern times, heavily infected injuries are rarely witnessed since antibiotics were discovered during the First World War and was later and their adoption globally occurred during the 1940s (Ahsan, 2016). Experiments with antiseptics were widely carried out during the First World War to treat the deep wounds and cuts of the soldiers. The Carrel-Dakin technique was introduced at this time (Ahsan, 2016). It directly distributed sodium hypochlorite to the injured tissues in deep wounds (Ahsan, 2016). The method used Edinburgh University Solution of Lime (EUSOL) basically referred to as Dakins solution (Ahsan, 2016). It was used to treat deep wounds till the late 20th century. The solution was a medical innovation in bacteriology that prevented bacterial infection of the wounds.

In 1915, a bacteriologist known as Alexander Fleming discovered that soldiers were infected more by bacterial infections (Bowater, 2014). He noted that soldiers were dying from secondary infections due to injuries. He carried out research in his lab whereby he noticed that there was a certain bacteria referred to as Penicillium notatum that consumed other bacteria such as Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, Diphtheria bacillus, and Meningococcus (Bowater, 2014). However, Alexander abandoned his research but created an insight into penicillin whereby two other scientists took over the research during the Second World War. The two scientists became successful during the Second World War and penicillin was referred to as the wonder drug (Bowater, 2014). Penicillin has been used since then as a significant antibiotic. This research was based on the bacterial infection in the First World War, whereby the concept was developed by Alexander although he did not pursue it.

Medical Challenges and Advances Associated with the Persian Gulf War

Persian Gulf War took place around 20 years ago starting from 1991 (Garth, 2003). It was a U.S. led coalition that entered Kuwait and Iraq. Gulf war illness was referred to as a group of chronic diseases which was contracted by soldiers of the coalition forces (Garth, 2003). The symptoms of the Gulf War illness was characterized by night sweats, disabling fatigue, myalgia, headaches, intermittent fevers, abdominal bloating, photophobia, short term memory impairments, arthralgia, skin rashes, chronic bronchitis, irritability, intermittent diarrhoea, confusion, depression, and transient visual scotomata (Garth, 2003 & Nicolson, 2002).

Chronic bacterial infections have also led to the appearance of Gulf War illness in close family members and civilians in the Gulf area. Most of the veterans were affected by chemical mixtures, radiological sources, and biological sources that include bacteria and viruses (Garth, 2003). One-half of the patients of the Gulf War illness had signs and symptoms of Fibromyalgia syndrome with chronic infections that include particular unpopular mycoplasmas, such as Mycoplasmas fermentans (Nicolson, 2002). This is a bacterial infection that improves the research on microbial infecting organisms. It was researched by medics at The Institute for Molecular Medicine (Garth, 2003). Additionally, the Department of Defence confirmed the reports. However, scientists state that this illness can be treated successfully with specific antibiotics improving the medical condition of a long term disabled patient (Garth, 2003). Quite a number of patients can be treated successfully with antibiotics.

Such chronic bacterial diseases can be easily transmitted to family members. Spouses and children between age 2 and 11 years posed a high risk of being infected (Garth, 2003). Scientists had to advance their microbial research to prevent the spread of these bacterial infections. Most of them who were diagnosed with mycoplasmal infection tested positive for Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) (Nicolson, 2002). Over 80 percent of ASD patients showed that they had the same illness as their veteran parents (Nicolson, 2002).

Blood tests were taken by scientists for the affected patients and indicated that they had some microorganisms in their blood stream. They were diagnosed to have Pestis, Brucella species, and other bacteria (Nicolson, 2002). However, scientists are still researching on the bacterial infections and how they can be prevented from contracting other soldiers, their close family members, and civilians. The medical sector has improved in bacterial and generally microbial infections that are brought about by war.

Comparison between Medical Challenges and Advances of First World War and Persian Gulf War

More complex weapons and techniques were used during the Persian Gulf War than First World War. Thus, severe medical conditions were more witnessed during the Persian Gulf War than First World War. Chemical weapons and nuclear reactors were utilized more during the Persian Gulf War than First World War. Therefore, medical practitioners and scientists had to advance the medical sector during the Persian Gulf War. This was to reduce the number of casualties and improve the health of the soldiers. Technology had advanced much more during the Persian Gulf War than during the First World War. Hence, medical research facilities and systems had improved and allowed for comprehensive research on microbiological infections.

Medical challenges experienced by soldiers and civilians in the First World War were due to the unsanitary environment while medical challenges faced by soldiers and civilians in the Persian Gulf War were due to chemical and biological exposure. Scientists have to research on the effect possibilities caused by the utilization of biological and chemical weapons which might transmit microbiological infections since they are more used as technology and civilization advances.

Works cited

Ahsan, S. (2016). How did WW1 change the way we treat war injuries today? BBC, L. (2014). World War 1. Microbiology Today. 41(2), 49-96

Garth, N. (2003). Gulf War illnesses: Chemical, biological, and radiological exposures resulting in chronic fatiguing illnesses can be identified and treated. Journal of Chronic Fatigue. 11(1), 135-154

Nicolson, GL et al. (2002). High frequency of systemic mycoplasmal infections in Gulf War veterans and civilians with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). PubMed. 9(5), 525-529.


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