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(1/12) It's the #FourthofJuly! Here's a THREAD👇 about how smallpox - one of the deadliest & most contagious disease known to man - was used as a biological weapon during the American Revolution in one of the earliest documented examples of germ warfare. Photo: @ExploreWellcome.
(2/12) At the time of the war, inoculation was common practice in Britain - thanks largely to the English aristocrat Lady Mary Wortley Montagu who introduced the practice into Western medicine after witnessing it during her travels to the Ottoman Empire.
(3/12) Before Edward Jenner discovered a vaccine for smallpox in 1796, inoculation (sometimes called variolation) was the only technique available for protecting a person against the virus. But it could be risky. VERY RISKY.
(4/12) Unlike Jenner's vaccine which used cowpox to confer immunity, inoculation used small amounts of the smallpox virus. Because a person became temporarily contagious during this process, he/she could trigger a widespread epidemic, leading to the deaths of many more people.
(5/12) Still, inoculation was better than nothing. So when the American Revolution broke out in 1776, most British troops were immune to smallpox due to having been inoculated. This gave them an enormous advantage over the colonists, for whom inoculation was still a new concept.
(6/12) Benjamin Franklin observed that the British tried to facilitate the spread of smallpox amongst Washington's army by inoculating prisoners, and then letting them escape while they were still contagious so that they would infect the enemy's camps.
(7/12) Sadly, slaves were used to spread the virus. One continental soldier recalled seeing a "black man with smallpox lying on the roadside in order to prevent the Virginia militia from pursuing them.” He became inured to the sight of pox-riddled slaves on his march.
(8/12) It didn't stop there. During the battle of Quebec City in 1776, the British army sent infected prostitutes into enemy camps. Over 5,000 of Washington's men contracted smallpox, sending the Continental Army into chaos.
(9/12) The situation had become so dire that Washington ordered the inoculation of his army in 1777, despite public skepticism about the practice throughout the colonies and the very real risk that doing so could start a deadly epidemic that would kill off his soldiers.
(10/12) In a letter to the Director General of Hospitals, Washington justified his decision: “the necessity not only authorizes but seems to require the measure, for should the disorder infect the Army…we should have more to dread from it than from the Sword of the Enemy.”
(11/12) Despite Washington’s successful program, colonists continued to view inoculation suspiciously in the years following the Revolution. And yet, had Washington not taken steps to inoculate his troops, it's possible the outcome of the war would have been very different.
(12/12) I hope you enjoyed this tale. I'm American but have lived in Britain for 15+ years - so am viewed as a traitor by both sides for different reasons! 😂 If you enjoy my content, please consider supporting me on @Patreon: patreon.com/drlindseyfitzh… And have a safe #FourthofJuly
Hey @joerogan, this might interest you. The outcome of the American Revolution literally hinged on smallpox inoculation! Another story for JRE audience.
Anybody coming here because of @joerogan, please scroll to the top to see the entire thread and story about how smallpox was used as a biological weapon during the American Revolution.
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