Military installations are at increased risk for the transmission of infectious disease. Personnel who live and train on military installations live and train near one another facilitating disease transmission. An understanding of historical sanitation and hygiene can inform modern practices. This is especially pertinent considering the continuing rise of variants of infectious diseases, such as the recent pandemic of the 2019 severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. In this article, we review the rise and decline of infectious disease at the United States Military Academy (USMA) during the period spanning 1890 through 1910, and the public health interventions used to combat disease spread.
Primary data regarding cadet illness were acquired from the historical archives of the USMA. These included annual reports, clinical admission records, casualty ledgers, and sanitation reports. Unpublished documents from the medical history of USMA provide periodic trends of health among cadets because of infectious disease.
Between 1890 and 1910, the USMA at West Point was confronted with cases of influenza, measles, mumps, scarlet fever, smallpox, typhus, and malaria. In response, a series of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) were instituted to curb the spread of infectious disease. These interventions most likely proved effective in suppressing the transmission of communicable diseases. The most common and arguably the most effective NPI was the physical separation of the sick from the well.
The USMA experience mirrored what was occurring in the larger U.S. Army in the early 20th century and may serve as a model for the application of NPIs in response to modern infectious diseases resulting from novel or unknown etiologies.
Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States 2020. This work is written by US Government employees and is in the public domain in the US.