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JAMA 100 Years Ago
May 11, 2005


JAMA. 2005;293(18):2290. doi:10.1001/jama.293.18.2290-b

It has been facetiously declared that the greatest peril undergone in a French duel is that of catching cold. There are, however, possibilities of being scratched and consequently the introduction of pathogenic germs under the skin. We do not know the kind of weapons used, but we presume that they are like those described by Daudet in his “Immortals,” with a nice little groove in the side for the blood to run down the blade. Hence, the greater chances for contamination. Of course, they would be disinfected, but this might not be altogether effectual. The persons of the combatants themselves may also furnish bacilli that only want to be introduced below the protecting cuticle. Certain of our French confrères, therefore, have devised still further protections. The combatants must take certain medicines over night, and on reaching the field of honor be soaped and scrubbed from head to foot, rubbed down with alcohol and sprayed with corrosive sublimate. Then, supplied with the necessary amount of sterilized clothing, the performance may begin. The real danger of catching cold, however, seems to have been somewhat neglected and it might be well to suggest that the participants be thoroughly examined by physicians as to the condition of their lungs. It has been shown by Fluegge and others that a consumptive by coughing or even speaking may project droplets containing tubercle bacilli a distance of several feet, and in even the moderate exercise of a French duel one should be protected also from this peril. With these and proper precautions against the inclemencies of the weather, it would seem that French duelists ought to be particularly favorable insurance risks. As a lay contemporary suggests, the action of the French physicians looks a little like a “fine bit of professional satire” on the traditionally safe transaction, the French duel.

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