Thursday, May 17, 2007

Lincoln Beats Smallpox


HOUSTON, Texas (Reuters) -- U.S. President Abraham Lincoln may have come closer than previously realized to dying from smallpox shortly after delivering his Gettysburg Address, medical researchers said Thursday.

After giving the Civil War speech, Lincoln became ill with symptoms of smallpox: high fever, weakness, severe pain in the head and back, "prostration" -- an old-fashioned word for extreme fatigue -- and skin eruptions that lasted for three weeks in late 1863.

Lincoln's doctors told the ailing president he suffered from a cold or a "bilious fever" before one physician told him he had a mild form of smallpox.

"Lincoln's physicians attempted to reassure him that his disease was a mild form of smallpox, but that may have been to prevent the public from fearing that Lincoln was dying," said Dr. Armond Goldman, emeritus professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

Smallpox, which was eradicated in 1979, was widespread in the 1800s and killed 30 percent of first-time victims.

Update: Related story here.

BALTIMORE — Abraham Lincoln might have survived if today’s medical technology
existed in 1865. Given that scenario, the question is whether Lincoln would have been able to return to office, says a doctor and historian who planned to speak today at an annual University of Maryland School of Medicine conference on the deaths of historic figures.

Although the conference traditionally has re-examined the deaths of historic figures to determine whether the diagnosis of the time was correct, this year’s event asks if Lincoln could have been saved and what impact that would have had.

Dr. Thomas Scalea, the physician in chief at the University of Maryland’s Shock Trauma Center, said brain injuries are unpredictable but Lincoln would have stood a good chance of surviving.

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