- Historic Sites
World War I: Tetanus And Plastic Surgery
October/november 1984 | Volume 35, Issue 6
World War I battlefields were rich farmland fertilized with manure, ideal conditions for tetanus bacilli. Army doctors tried a new antitoxin, with impressive results. The major disease killer of the war, influenza, was not brought under control until later.
By 1914, surgical techniques were considerably more sophisticated than in previous conflicts. Unfortunately the science of war had kept pace, and surgeons faced a larger percentage of serious injuries caused by shells and shrapnel. But this development, too, propelled medicine forward. Perhaps the greatest lessons of the war were in the field of plastic surgery: the large numbers of men with wounds of the face and jaw prompted daring reconstructive surgery that expanded and developed this new medical specialty.