Friday, June 01, 2007

Did Abraham Lincoln suffer from smallpox ? - Mystery from 142 years back

Abraham Lincoln was having smallpox
at the time he gave the Gettysburg address.
This is what the Journal of Medical Biography has concluded. Two Texas physicians made the claim after examining newspaper articles, historical documents and Lincoln's medical records.

Smallpox is a human disease caused by the smallpox virus. It was thought to be eradicated from the world until today, when reports came in from Bangladesh, and West Bengal in India of a disease suspected to be smallpox. Vaccination was discovwered by Dr Edward Jenner and after its eradicated a few years ago, vaccination was discontinued.

The evidence? According to Drs. Armond Goldman and Frank Schmalstieg, the president started feeling ill the day before he traveled to Pennsylvania in 1863 to honor fallen soldiers at Gettysburg. When he arrived at the battlefield, he was weak, dizzy and his face had a "ghastly" pallor.

Lincoln then developed a fever and headache on the train ride back to D.C. In the ensuing days, he became progressively ill with back pain and a blistering rash. A servant who cared for Lincoln during this time also became sick and died from smallpox.

These are all the symptoms and signs of smallpox - a disease which was thought to be eradicated. But now, in West Bengal in India, and also in the country of Bangladesh an alert has been issued suspecting smallpox.

Back to Lincoln, Goldman and Schmalstieg maintained that Lincoln had a full-fledged, dangerous dose of smallpox. They even suggested he got the contagious disease from his 10-year-old son, Tad, who apparently fell ill with a rashlike illness in the weeks before the Gettysburg trip.

Even so, infectious-disease specialist William Schaffner from Vanderbilt University is not convinced. Though "enticing," he said the smallpox theory is far from conclusive. He said Lincoln's symptoms also could indicate scarlet fever, chickenpox or even a strep infection. The mystery lives on, even 142 years after Lincoln's death.

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