Was it measles – or influenza – that killed thousands of soldiers in the American Civil War?

Date: 25 February 2014
Time: 1:00 - 2:00 pm (sandwiches will be provided)
Venue: Mrs Chen Yang Foo Oi Telemedicine Centre, 2/F, William M.W. Mong Block, Faculty of Medicine Building, The University of Hong Kong, 21 Sassoon Road

Was it measles – or influenza – that killed thousands of soldiers in the American Civil War? by William Meacham

Measles epidemics were among the diseases that plagued Civil War armies on both sides.  The conventional view is that most recruits were from isolated rural areas never exposed to the virus, and many died when contracting the disease as an adult. Evidence from newspaper accounts and US Census Mortality Schedules is presented indicating that measles was common in remote areas, and it was rarely fatal when adult civilians were infected. Even slaves did not have a higher mortality rate. However, the malady known then as ‘black measles’ was extremely deadly and killed rapidly.  The tragic epidemic at a Confederate camp in Hopkinsville, Kentucky in the winter of 1861-62 is examined. The symptoms described there were mostly those of severe pneumonia, and ‘epidemic catarrh’ (influenza) may have been the real culprit behind the high death toll.

About the speaker:
William Meacham is a local archaeologist who has directed 23 major  excavations in Hong Kong and Macau, including the 16-month salvage excavation of sites on Chek Lap Kok. Meacham has written or edited 10 books on archaeology (including The Archaeology of Hong Kong published in 2008 by the HKU Press). Born in Nashville, Tennessee, Meacham was educated at Tulane University in New Orleans and the Sorbonne in Paris. From 1980 to 2012 he was Honorary Research Fellow at the Centre of Asian Studies, HKU. He was also Chairman of the Hong Kong Archaeological Society from 1985 to 1996.

In October 2012, in conjunction with the Kentucky Archaeological Survey, he organized a ground penetrating radar search for 227 missing graves at a Civil War site. And in October 2013 he published a 12,000-word study of the “black measles” epidemic that killed thousands of soldiers during the Civil War.

All are welcome.

The event is co-hosted by:
Medical Ethics and Humanities Unit and the Centre for the Humanities and Medicine

For further enquiries, please contact us at contact_chm@hku.hk.