Camp Fever (Typhus) was very common in war zones. Napoleon lost more French soldiers to typhus than to the Russians in his ill fated campaign in Russia. Here we see vaccinations being administered to French soldiers in 1913.
The past was a dangerous time to be alive. If you were lucky enough to survive infancy and adolescence, you were very likely to die of any number of frightful diseases well before you reached what we regard as old age.
Readers of old novels or historical death records are confronted with many unfamiliar names for these illnesses. I’m sure I am not the only person to read pre-1900 novels and think, what is brain fever?
What’s the bloody flux? What on earth is pink disease?
For the benefit of those readers, history students and any one else who is interested, I’ve compiled a brief glossary of medical terms which were once commonly used but are now rare or obsolete.
Mathis Grunewald (1512)
Ague: Any intermittent fever characterised by periods of chills, fevers and sweats
Apoplexy: Now refers to bleeding within internal organs, but historically meant a death which began with sudden loss of consciousness; covered what we now call heart attacks, strokes and aneurysms
Bilious fever: A fever accompanied by nausea, vomiting and diaerrhea
Bloody flux: Dysentery
Brain fever: Difficult to make a diagnosis in hindsight, but possibly meningitis or encephalitis. Very popular as a plot device with 19th century novelists, who portrayed it as a reaction to a severe emotional shock.
Camp fever: Typhus; so-called because it was common in military camps with notoriously poor hygiene
Consumption: Pulmonary tuberculosis. Another popular illness in Victorian novels.
Corruption: General term for infection
Distemper: A disease, especially an infectious one
Dropsy: Edema – abnormal swelling of the body, often caused by kidney or heart disease