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JAMA 100 Years Ago
August 15, 2001


Author Affiliations

Copyright 2001 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.2001American Medical Association

JAMA. 2001;286(7):768. doi:10.1001/jama.286.7.768-JJY10026-2-1

Since the recent extensive epidemic of arsenical neuritis due to the use of contaminated beer the question has been raised whether so-called alcoholic neuritis is really of alcoholic and not of arsenical origin. It has been contended that this form of neuritis occurs only in beer-drinkers and not in spirit-drinkers, and there is evidence to show that it is the impurities present rather than the alcohol that is responsible for the intoxication resulting from the use of spirit. For the purpose of reaching a definite opinion in the matter, Dr. E. F. Buzzard2 undertook a careful analysis of 120 cases of alcoholic neuritis observed during a period of twelve years at the National Hospital for the Paralyzed and Epileptic in London. Of this number spirit alone and in excess was taken in 29; beer alone and in excess in 1; spirit especially in 11; beer especially in 1; and beer and spirit in excess in 30; hence, the predominant influence in the development of the neuritis must be accorded to spirit rather than beer. In 57 of the cases no special reference is made to the condition of the skin or its appendages; in 23 no cutaneous changes were found; while in 40 various vasomotor, trophic or pigmentary changes were described. The last named, however, were in general characteristic of neuritis, while changes due to arsenical poisoning were conspicuously wanting. Further, in 24 cases arsenic was employed in treatment, alcohol, of course, being withheld, and the results in these, far from being worse, were at least as good as in those treated by other means, if not better. An additional interesting fact resides in the circumstance that of a large number of cases of all kinds treated with arsenic, at times for long periods, neuritis developed in but two, although a considerable number presented other symptoms of arsenical poisoning, as exhibited in pigmentation of the skin.

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