Cooties and Courage

By Herbert Corey

[The National Geographic Magazine, June 1918]

The "cootie" is not a pleasant topic to write, talk, or think about; but the seriousness of this menace to the health and comfort of our soldiers—a menace which scientists are exerting every effort to minimise—warrants the publication of Mr. Corey's unexaggerated account of the chief pest of all fighting men.

Last night I heard laughter as I stumbled along a dark street in a dark village in northern France. I say "dark," but the word does not properly set forth the conditions. There was no moon and there were no stars. It had been raining and in a few minutes it would be raining again. The street had once been paved—about the time of the Roman occupation, perhaps—and a few rounded cobbles were still imbedded in a soggy mud that sucked at one's bootsoles as one walked.

No light came from the windows. One knew that inside the houses American soldiers were gathered about the candles, reading or "shooting craps," or wondering why the Y. M. C. A. was not performing total impossibilities in getting its chocolate- and cigarette-laden trucks over roads that were gummed and cluttered with the camions of an army in movement.

The windows were curtained, so that not the slightest gleam escaped. In this part of France the peasants favor solid wooden shutters outside the windows, and inside the soldiers had tacked up blankets. Hostile airplanes are always on the hunt for villages in which soldiers may be bombed. This particular hamlet was within range of the Germans' big guns and no chances might be taken.


Only those who have been lost in the midst of a forest on a rainy night can properly appreciate the utter blackness of that street. I ran head-on into a soldier.

"Visibility low," he remarked, in grimly humorous quotation from the report often made by the aerial observers.

The laughter came from the one room in which the officers of the headquarters company were bedded. I knew that room. In it the beds were laid so thickly n the rough brick floor that they overlapped like shingles on a roof. Only the man who slept next the door could get to his bed without walking over the beds of the other men. All others walked over his bed in going and coming. They were distinguished from each other by the names of the owners chalked on the dingy wall.

When an American "outfit" enters a town in which it has been newly billeted, it finds that the billeting officers have preceded it. Upon the doors of houses or the gates of courts such legends as this are written:

"Company I, one officer and 12 men."

Inside that house or that court or that barn an officer and 12 men of Company I are free to find such accommodations as they may.

Sometimes the officer sleeps between sheets and sometimes the men roll in their blankets on clean, sweet-smelling hay. Sometimes the lodgings are more primitive. Not long ago I visited a major whose bed was only divided from the bed of the household pig by a board partition, ventilated by huge cracks. Another officer shared a room with a sick cow. In another house the chickens and the men roosted together. No one complained; for this is war.

It was in burlesque of these chalked billeting orders that on the walls of the bedroom of the headquarters company had been written the names of the bed owners.


I know them well. They average 24 years old, for I took a census of their ages. One owns rich mines in Mexico. One says he will be elected sheriff in his county in central Tennessee when the war is over. Another was an officer in the Philippine constabulary and resigned his commission to get into the greater game. One is a six-foot-four youngster from a clean home in Nebraska. He does not speak of his home, but one can always tell. Another was a Kansas City newspaper man, and another had been in business in Milwaukee when we declared war.

That is the sort of men they are—clean, lively, energetic Americans. I wanted to know why they were laughing, so I fumbled my way to a dark door and through a black hall and lifted a blanket curtain and stepped in.

"Thus," some one was saying in a pompous, professorial way, "we observe, gentlemen of the class in entomology, that when confronted by danger even the humblest—I might say the most despicable—insect manifests a marvelous intelligence."

The members of the class were standing standing on each other's blankets. A youth who had left college to enter the army was giving an imitation of the instructor he had evaded by going to war. Two men were seated on the floor. "Signals" was picking "cooties" from the seams of his clothes and depositing them on a space that had been cleared. "Stokes" was embalming them in drops of grease from a guttering candle. A dozen white blotches on the worn red bricks told of the success of the pursuit.


Perhaps the reader thinks there is something repulsive and disgusting in this tale of clean-minded young Americans picking lice out of their clothing and killing them by drops from a burning candle. Perhaps there is. Perhaps my mentality has been warped by almost four years of war. To my mind the men who can do this and still laugh—bearing in mind their rearing and the clean years of their youth—are almost as nearly heroes as those who "hop over" when the whistle sounds the zero hour. The ones are called upon to keep up their courage under a day-long and nightlong degradation—a constant, crawling, loathsome irritation—while the others spend themselves freely in one fine burst. I cannot distinguish between brave men.

I call them "cooties" as the soldiers do, and for precisely the same reason that they nickname these minor, or are they major? horrors of war. Only the surgeons and the surgical orderlies and the men who run the steam cleaning machines come out bluntly with the word "louse." They are practical men. Their business is to deal with human ills and weaknesses, and they are habitually pressed for time. Their talk goes straight to the point, like a probe. The poor devils who are lousy always shy at the word.


The American soldiers speak of the pest as "cooties." The French fighter talks of "totos" and the British tell of "coddlers." They know it is not their fault that they are infested, but the effect of years of civilian training persists. They still feel, against all reason, that there is something shameful in their state. They try to assume a joviality they do not feel, and call the things "pants rabbits" and "seam squirrels" and speak of "reading their shirts."

"I'll meet you this afternoon," a noncom once told me, "down at Cootie Park."

Cootie Park was the grassy bank of a streamlet on which the sun shone warm. In the meadow was a flock of sheep guarded by two alert dogs, while the bent old shepherd carried the weaker lambs in his arms. Now and then he blew upon a brass instrument—half whistle, half squeak—and the flock and dogs obeyed his summons.

The disciplined sheep interested the boys immensely, as they sat there bare to the waist in the sunshine, going over their seams. Two discussed the shepherd and the sheep:

"Sure," one said, "he can blow every order we've got in the manual of arms. Last night I was watching him, and when it came time to start home he whistled 'Eyes right,' and they did."


his is not a pleasant recital, if one thinks in civilian terms of the louse as loathsome and suspects that the men who suffer from this plague are in some way to blame. At the very best it cannot be pleasant. But lately, since my own people have come into the war, and because I know them best and talk their language, I have begun to realize the moral courage that is needed to bear this plague without whining.

Many a man has told me that to be under fire would be a trifle if he could but be clean. Mud and thirst and hunger and cold can be borne with equanimity, but the louse carries the suggestion of degradation. Yet that, too, is sustained bravely.

"I have only known one man who cried because of the plague," a surgeon once told me. "That man went into No Man's Land on reconnaissance at night in as commonplace fashion as though he were taking the tram for the office of a morning."

"I don't mind the nights on guard in the front trench," many say, "because the nights are cold and 'they' are quiet. But I dread the coming of the day, when I must crawl back into my dugout and try to sleep and know that I shall have to lie awake and feel 'them' crawl. 'They' become a torture."

Practically all of the men in the advance areas are lousy, according to a document that is accepted as authoritative. It is impossible to tell what proportion of the men in the rear and along the lines of communication and in depots are infested.

It is probable that the men in the French armies suffer to a like extent, for the conditions under which they live are identical with those of the other armies.

During the formative period of the American army in France the men were able to keep fairly clean—only fairly—but with the opening of the year's activity they were set upon the same footing as their allies.


The great fear of the military surgeons is the time following a battle, when the field hospitals and clearing stations are swamped by a flood of wounded men lying grimly silent upon, their blood-soaked litters. Then the surgeons work in teams, each operator being accompanied by his ether specialist and his orderlies and nurses.

They go from table to table swathed in white, their instruments freshly cleaned and sterilized and glittering, their cotton gloves white and new. Other men wheel in the tables on which the wounded lie and wheel them away again when the operation is completed. The operators go on without pause, never asking after the fate of those who have been operated on, never looking ahead at the line of waiting tables, until exhaustion stops them.


Such a gorge of hurt men is the thought that haunts the waking moments and the dreams at night of every surgeon at the front.

But such days are rare, while every day the louse must be fought. It carries with it the threat of epidemic. In the eastern field of war the louse is a typhus carrier, and there is no known reason why it shouldn't carry typhus in the west.

Trench fever has been traced home to it. Until a comparatively short time ago this was a mystery, with its recurrent chills and fever and the semi-paralysis that is an occasional result.

It is definitely known that a form of itch is to be charged against the louse, and a lowering of morale and a lessening of the power of resistance is certainly produced by it. In some cases men have been rendered so nervous by prolonged exposure to the irritation of the louse that they have been made unfit for duty.


There are other trench pests, of course. Perhaps one hears more of the trench rat, for sufferers from rats are almost morbidly candid in relating their experiences. Rats can be disposed of, however. Trenches can be policed into cleanliness and officers can enforce the rules against leaving bits of food about. Without food rats cannot exist, and, being highly intelligent animals, they do not attempt life in sterile surroundings. They may be dogged and catted and trapped. At the most, the trench rat is little more than an annoyance.

He does run over the faces of sleeping men, and they waken their comrades to relate the fact. They discuss the odor of the rat's feet and the uncanny coldness of them. He eats leather shoe-strings and bridles and sometimes nibbles on boots.

The flea is the rat's partner, and bubonic and other plagues have been traced to the rat-borne flea. The trench rat habitually grows to an enormous and unprecedented size, so that a cat must have an heroic soul to tackle one of them unassisted, but I have yet to hear a substantiated story of a man being bitten by a trench rat, unless that rat was cornered.

Sometimes one encounters a humorist who tells his story:

"I met a rat one night in the trenches by Zee-bray," said one man. "On the level, he looked bigger than a Great Dane dog. I stood there like a gentleman and waited for him to give me the right of way, but when he didn't, I just took to the parapet and let him go by. Sure, the Germans were shooting, but I didn't care. I'd rather take a chance with a Boche than with a rat."


There is an odd insect known as the "spring tail" and many sorts of flies. Ordinarily the fly is dangerous at the front in precisely the same manner in which flies are dangerous at home, because he contaminates food.

There is a biting fly, however, which is especially prevalent in regions where there has been long-continued fighting and where the contending forces have not had an opportunity to clean up the battlefields. A variety of blood-poisoning has been traced to the bite of this fly.

But of all the vermin of the trenches, the chief pest is the louse. He is unescapable and ever present. The primary reason is that the men have only intermittent opportunities to clean up. Theoretically, of course, the men of all armies are washed and dried and newly underclothed once a fortnight. Sometimes glad-eyed optimists' clean up their men once a week.


Even if that were possible, the louse would not be disposed of. He would manage to cling in the overlooked fold of a blanket or under the collar of an overcoat. And by and by romance would begin to sing in his blood, and he would meet a lady louse and set up housekeeping. Whereupon a whole cityful of younglings would appear, and the unfortunate who played the part of an unwitting host would go back to his moments of uneasiness during the day and his hours of sleeplessness at night.

But under army conditions the men are almost never given a chance to clean up so often.

Let me tell the story of the outfit I have been living with for the past few weeks, because that story is typical of a regiment which has had a fairly good opportunity to keep free of the pest.

For some weeks it had been kept in the trenches, one battalion at a time. The men "up front" had no chance at all to keep clean.

They did not even wash their faces. There is no water whatever in the trenches, except when there is too much water, none of which is fit for use. The little that comes to the men in line is carried in at night, in galvanized-iron containers, by the men who have been told off for that duty.

Usually the "carry" is a long one. One may say that it is practically never less than two miles, because of the German guns. The cans are unchancy things to handle, and only the water absolutely needed for drinking purposes is carried in.


During their time in the trenches most of the men are on duty all night long. By day they are required to stay in the dugout, not only for the sleep they require, but to be out of sight of the enemy and out of danger from his bombs.

A dugout is, in nine cases out of ten, a mere dirt-roofed hole in the ground. Sometimes it is a luxurious one, with a board floor, on which the musty straw is piled. Sometimes an abundance of straw makes up for the lack of boards. Sometimes there is no straw.

It is rarely large enough to accommodate the men, and if it were large enough the chill of a damp hole, into which the sun never shines, forces them to lie spoon fashion, each wrapped in his blanket, each seeking the warmth of the other man to add to his own comfort. It is ideally adapted for the furtherance of all insect plagues. No matter how scrupulously scrubbed a man may be when he enters a dugout, he usually comes out lousy.

When the regiment of which I speak left the trenches the men got a chance to clean up. Two days is always required for that—if not more—because the first day is spent in resting. The men are exhausted by the long hours and the scant sleep and the nervous tension under which they have been living.

The officers saw to it that each man bathed and each man was given a fresh suit of underwear. Then the "replacements" came.


A "replacement" is a man sent to a unit to take the place of one of the men the unit has lost. No matter from whence he comes, in a properly handled regiment he first goes into quarantine. A surgeon looks him over, to see that he is not suffering from a contagious disease. Then he is examined for "cooties."

If he has them he is sent to the guardhouse and kept there, not as a punishment, but to be sure that he does not spread his pests among other men, until he in turn can be bathed and newly outfitted.

"Tomorrow we hike" was the word after dinner one night.

The regiment got under way at two o'clock in the morning, and for two weeks each day was too full to permit of proper cleanliness. Sometimes we hiked. Sometimes the day's program called for close-order drill, or special instruction for almost every available hour.


There were no moments left for bathing, and if there were, a bath in the cold water of the streams of northern France presents slight attractions to the man who has worked hard. There is always the hope that tomorrow may be a better day.

At last we reached a billet which was to be permanent for at least two weeks. It was only by diplomacy and unflagging industry that enough wood was found to keep the fires going in the rolling kitchens.

Hereabouts the peasants cook over fires that might almost be covered by a pocket handkerchief. As fast as the end burns off, the sticks are moved forward to present a fresh surface to the flames. The fires are all made of little twigs. Each year the peasants lop off the branches of certain trees and make them tip into bundles for the winter's fuel. The season's provision for a farming family is unbelievably small.

"There are enough stumps in my old man's woodlot to boil soup for all France," a disgusted soldier told me one day.

"Cooties" can be killed by boiling water, if the water is hot enough and boiled long enough. The women of France rarely use hot water for the washing of clothes.


In every village in the north there is a municipal laundry, in which the women kneel and souse the soiled linen in cold water which trickles into a tub, and then thresh the linen upon rough stones. The process is repeated until the cloth takes on at least the appearance of whiteness.

But this process does not kill the "cooties." The adult cootie is a fairly hardy insect and the eggs ate extraordinarily resistant to rough treatment. The scientists who have been inquiring into the louse problem among the armies of the Western Front have found that clean clothes may be infested from these community wash-houses. The eggs remain upon the rough surfaces of the stones on which the linen is scoured and are taken up by the next armful of wet clothes.

If the scientists had their way they would either have the clothes of the soldiers washed by army specialists or by the soldiers themselves. They would forbid the men taking their clothes to the village blanchisseuses.

But the American soldier is a luxurious creature and has money in his pocket. He prefers to have his laundry done by the women, and he can hardly be blamed. If he were to do his own week's wash, he would be forced to do it at the same place and on the same stones over which the peasant laundresses work each day.

When there is no hot water to wash the men's clothing there is no hot-water in which the men themselves may bathe. It is true that one sometimes finds a municipal bath-house in the tiniest villages, but ordinarily the men are obliged to take their baths at the edge of a stream. Even when quarters are established for a stay of some time, it is not always possible to make better arrangements.


The British take notably good care of their men in this respect, yet I found only a cold-water shower at a school for officers last winter. The water could not be heated, and so the Britons went under the splash and came out even pinker than when they went in. It sends a chill down my sensitive spine even yet to think about it.

"I got a hot bath yesterday," said the colonel's orderly. He was so extremely set up over it that I asked for details. He had built a small fire between bricks, fed it with bits of twigs he had collected and little parcels of straw and other odds and ends, and heated water in the cup of his canteen and used his mess tin as a bathtub.

Many cups of water were heated and he had bathed himself by fractional parts. But in the end he was entirely clean. Not many men will go to such trouble, however, and in fact he secured an esthetic rather than a sanitary satisfaction from the process; for he had no way in which his clothes might be boiled.

In the month of which I am writing only a few lucky men of this regiment had hot baths. This includes the officers as well as the private soldiers. The men did what they could by cold-water baths and cold-water laundering to keep the pests down, and they have been aided by the insect powder which is distributed from time to time. Unfortunately it has not always been possible to get a sufficient quantity of that insect powder, because of conditions into which it is unnecessary to go.


If ninety-nine out of every one hundred men were absolutely free from "cooties," the hundredth man would infest the ninety-nine in a week's time under military conditions.

Sometimes unusual methods are resorted to. In a regiment largely made up of national guardsmen the hospital orderlies took charge of one platoon which, through no fault of its own, had become infested.

At that billet there happened to be plenty of gasoline—a condition which rarely exists nowadays. The hospital man managed to commandeer a quantity. Then the men stripped and their clothes were literally soaked with gasoline.

An unusual spectacle followed. The hospital orderlies armed themselves with swabs tied to the ends of sticks. They dipped the swabs in open cans of gasoline. Then they swabbed the men.

"Ouch!" was the first remark made by each man as the gasoline filtered into the raw places where he had been scratching himself. He rarely paused with that exclamation; but the hospital crew was relentless.

"Stand up," they said ' sternly. "Whoa!"

It developed that they had immediately before been swabbing horses with gasoline for the same purpose and the words came naturally to their lips. The poor men being swabbed danced and swore, but they had to submit, for an underofficer supervised the process.

Physicians tell me that it is not at all certain that gasoline will kill the nits of lice, but the hospital orderlies had no doubt whatever as to the efficacy of their process. They manifested an artistic satisfaction in the swabbing, so that not a single nesting place in which eggs might be hidden was overlooked.

Later I asked the men who had been swabbed what the result had been. "Fine," they said, their faces glowing. "It's a bully hunch. We're going to swipe some gasoline and go over ourselves now and then. It sure does kill the 'cooties.'"


No army in the European field has a preeminence in cleanliness over any other army. The most that can be said is that some armies are worse than others.

It is assumed by those who have inquired into the subject that the louse obtained his foothold in the early days of mobilization, when Apaches from the slums and ruffians from the docks were herded into barracks along with men who had never known what it was to be anything but clean. So the louse spread and propagated until now its diffusion is general.

If every man and every stitch of cloth in every army were to be thoroughly freed from the pest today, in a week each man might be infested again. Enough "cooties" would be left over in unsuspected places to make a fresh start.

With all Germany's boasted ability to organize, the louse has fairly ravaged her armies. In the latter months of 1914 I visited a great prison camp near Berlin, in which 9,000 military prisoners of war were herded behind a high wire fence. They had no hot water and no soap and no bathing facilities. Those who wished might wash themselves in an iron trough, such as horses are watered at, which stood in the bleak openness of the prison parade ground.


Only those who have felt the moist cold of Germany penetrate through wool and fur to the very bone can realize the sturdy courage of the men who went to that horse trough day after day and did their heroic best to keep themselves clean.

Others sat in long rows on the paillasses of dirty straw in the cavalry stable tents which sheltered them, naked to the waist, while they attempted to kill the plagues that were driving them mad. That was in 1914. I often wonder what has become of those men—if they have had the courage to live on amid such infernal torture.

The German armies were infested, so that one of the most popular charities in the Empire was the "Delousing Fund," which furnished various insecticidal compounds to the men at the front.

The Russian prisoners were infested to the last man—infested to a degree that no one unacquainted with army conditions would believe if I were to tell the unvarnished story—and through their plague brought the spotted fever to Germany in 1915. The Russians themselves were fairly immune, but it is said to have cost the Central Empires many lives before it was conquered.

Nowadays it is realized by the scientists who have given their time and their blood to a study of the problem, that a high degree of heat and rigorous cleanliness are the only means by which the plague can be successfully fought.


The N C I powder, supplied to all the armies, will free the men from the beastie if they have some little chance to keep clean while they are using it. One application is considered good for five days. It is made up of naphthalene, 96 per cent; creosote, 2 per cent; and iodoform, 2 per cent. It would not be favored in civilian circles, because the user of N C I advertises that fact to the most casual passer; but it does the work.

Another objection to N C I is that it causes severe smarting if used in large quantities; but the men seem not to object to that. The soldier who is thoroughly inured to war seems to care little for bodily pain. I have seen men at hard work whose slight wounds had been only partially healed, so that each movement must have been productive of pain.

The Englishman, if asked about it, grins and says that he must "carry on." The American says: "We've got to get through with it." The Frenchman assures you that it makes no difference to him.

There are other treatments. One is a vermijelli ointment, with which the men smear themselves almost from head to foot. A preparation of crude oil and soft paraffin melted together sets like a salve and is very useful when similarly used. A mercury ointment is likewise employed with success, but all these are merely temporary expedients.

It is when the men come into rest camps that the "cootie" is properly handled. Heat and hot water give temporary relief from the scourge. The method usually followed is that of the British army.


The men enter the first room of a three-room bathing establishment. There they undress and hand their soiled clothes through a window to a receiver, who sends the bundle to the "delousing machine."

They pass into the middle room and take a thorough bath with plenty of soap and plenty of hot water. A non-com is at hand to see to it that the occasional man who objects to cleanliness nevertheless follows the example of the others.

Then they move into the third room, dry themselves and put on clean clothes. These may not fit, but they are clean. The shirts, socks, and undergarments have been subjected to 215 degrees of heat in live steam for three-quarters of an hour, or sometimes are boiled for five minutes. The outer garments are thoroughly brushed and then ironed with a very hot iron down every seam and in every possible hiding place for the "cootie," or the eggs"


When it is not possible to arrange permanent cleaning up establishments of this sort, the men are made to bathe as best they can, and their inner garments are steamed in huge horse or motor drawn "delousers," which hang about the rear of every army nowadays. Absolute cleanliness is not secured, but the evil is greatly reduced.

"The plague may at least be reduced to a minimum," remarks an English authority. "It is not so much a matter of pure science as of common-sense management."

Some interesting facts have been revealed by the scientists who have made an examination of louse habits during the war. One is that dugouts and buildings are never infested. The cold straw and the damp walls do not present any attractions to the bug. He does not even stay upon blankets any longer than is necessary. His home is in clothing that is being worn and from which he ventures to feed.

In an official document it is stated that in the British army 95 per cent of men who have seen six months' service are lousy; that the average number of lice per man is 20, and that 50 men to a battalion of 1,000 are dangerous carriers, each bearing from 100 to 300 lice.


One shirt was found to contain 10,428 lice, and more than 10,000 eggs were found under the microscope. This probably establishes the world's highest record, although nurses who served through the typhus epidemic in Serbia in 1915 told me that they had seen gray patches the size of one's two hands upon the bodies of men brought into the hospital. The pests were so thick in these patches that from a little distance they presented the appearance of a felted cloth.

The beast seems to lack intelligence, however, for in all the experiments no deliberate effort on his part to reach the human body has been observed. He is a creature of opportunity and environment.

Eggs have been hatched after a dormancy away from the human body of forty days, and single insects have lived and flourished on good feeding grounds for thirty days; but the longest period in which any survived separation from its human host was nine days.


Every effort is being made to keep the men of the American army free from "cooties," for the American surgeons and officers fully realize the danger that may be carried by the pests. During the early months of our army in France the French baths and the English delousing machines were used, but now we are getting baths and machines of our own.

Clean underwear is furnished the men at every opportunity, and they are given every possible insecticidal device, from the "cootie bags" of the French to the "navvy's butter" of the British. It is not too much to say that no army is cleaner than the American.

The fact that most impresses the observer, however, is the cheerful courage with which the American soldier is bearing this, as he is bearing every other danger and discomfort of the war. By preference he disguises his repugnance with a rough form of humor.

One man told me as he left the trenches after a two weeks' stay, that he had "little cooties" feeding on the "big cooties" now, and another said he didn't mind the hikes, because "all I had to do was to sort of shoo my clothing along." They never whine. They say they have "cootied" or they have not and do not add a comment.

Perhaps that is not the courage that seeks a fleeting glory in the cannon's mouth, but it seems to me it is a fine courage just the same.

Hospital Heroes Convict The "Cootie

It would be highly appropriate if the United States Government were to confer a special decoration upon sixty-six young American soldiers who have displayed unspectacular, but unsurpassed, courage in France, a courage that dared wasting illness, in a hospital subject to the bombardment of Hun shells, in order that future millions who are to make their way from our shores to the battle front may be spared the suffering, and the disabilities of trench fever.

The courage which these sixty-six boys have evinced differs greatly from that induced by the battle call which sends men shouting "over the top." In volunteering to undergo tests which have identified trench fever as a germ disease they knew what they were facing—months, perhaps a year, of illness, of voluntary imprisonment in a hospital ward, of removal from all the activities and the excitement of the soldier's life in a foreign land, and from the companionship of comrades in arms. They were, necessarily, men in perfect health, many of them wholly unaccustomed to, and therefore dreading, the strangeness of hospital wards, of surgeons of medicines, of blood injections, etc.


The knowledge which these heroic sixty-six, by offering up their virile bodies to a disease test, have enabled science to acquire may prove the determining factor in the world war, for it may mean the conquest of trench fever, just as the sacrifices of a smaller group of men 18 years ago enabled Walter Reed and his associates to identify the mosquito as the insect which carries yellow fever. Once the source of the contagion was discovered the fight against yellow fever was more than half won.

The experiments conducted on America's Sixty-six have fastened the guilt of contagion-bearing upon the body louse, the "cootie," of which Mr. Corey writes in the preceding pages.

The first question studied was whether this was a germ disease. No germs could be seen with the microscope, but the U.S. Medical Department knew that there are numerous germs which cannot be seen by even the most powerful magnification. Therefore this point had to be established by taking blood from men with the fever and injecting it into healthy men. Out of 34 such individuals inoculated with blood, or some constituent thereof, taken from seven cases of trench fever, 23 volunteers developed the disease. Out of 16 healthy men inoculated with whole blood from a trench-fever case, 15 developed the disease. These experiments proved that trench fever is a germ disease, and that the germs live in the blood of men so infected.


The next question was, "How is this disease spread?" Naturally, the body louse was to be considered first. Large numbers of these were collected from patients with trench fever, and also some of the same kind were brought from England, having been collected from healthy men. The lice from trench-fever cases were allowed to bite 22 men. Twelve of these later developed the disease, while four men bitten by lice from healthy men remained free from the disease. Eight other volunteers, living under exactly the same conditions, in the same wards, but kept free from lice, did not develop trench fever. After blood inoculation the disease developed in from 5 to 20 days. After being bitten by infected lice the fever required from 15 to 35 days to develop.

With such data in their possession, the medical departments of the Allies have taken up the problem of the "cootie" in its bearing upon the supreme question of winning the war. Until recently the odious vermin have been considered only in the light of bodily annoyances to the troops, in some cases having a certain effect on their morale. Now, however, the battle is on in earnest to rid the men of the disease-bearers, for when a man falls a victim to trench fever he is, in the average case, unfit as a fighter for six months.

It is a simple problem in multiplication to appreciate how tremendously America's Sixty-six may have contributed to the power of our blows against the Huns by giving science the information which will result in keeping our soldiers fit for service.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

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A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald

The Headlong Fury