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JAMA 100 Years Ago
May 5, 2004


JAMA. 2004;291(17):2146. doi:10.1001/jama.291.17.2146-b

It is generally supposed that physicians escape infectious diseases, notwithstanding their exposure, at least to an extent that is notable, considering the risks they run. There is some basis for this belief, for there is no doubt that they do largely escape in epidemics and in ordinary contagious disorders. This is owing to their better knowledge of the dangers and of how to ward off infection, as well as to a more intelligent and less panicky state of mind than is the case with the general public. When, however, a special malignancy is observed—as seems to have been the case the last few years with pneumonia, which is now acknowledged as an infectious disease—it is worth while to see how far the profession shares in the general mortality. We have looked up our records from October to March, inclusive, together with the first three weeks of April, to ascertain how many pneumonia deaths were reported among medical men. The pneumonia season just passed has had an average mortality of something like 15 to 20 per cent. of the total deaths during the season in some of the northern parts of the country. Taking the cases where the cause of death was known, we find that the percentage of deaths from pneumonia among physicians in October was 5; in November, 6.4; in December,12.5; in January, 16.4; in February, 20.33; in March, 19.6, and for the first three weeks in April, 24. The figures probably do not cover all the cases, for a number are reported as having died after "short illness," which may indicate pneumonia. It would appear, therefore, that the medical profession has not escaped the increased mortality from pneumonia during the past pneumonia season. Considering the contingencies of their work, the exposures to cold, the wear of responsibility and the necessary irregularities of sleep, eating, etc., it is not at all wonderful that physicians should often succumb to pneumonia.

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