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August 2016

Chemical Warfare’s Most Notorious Agent Against the Skin: Mustard Gas—Then and Now

Author Affiliations
  • 1University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery, Miami, Florida
  • 2Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, Bradenton, Florida
JAMA Dermatol. 2016;152(8):933. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2016.0179

In July of 1917, the allied forces rallied against the German Empire, in a battle fought in the trenches of the Ypres salient, a highly sought-after territory of Belgium. In these critical battles of World War I, the use of chemical warfare took hold as nations began to effectively demoralize, deface, and kill entrenched defenders. Gas masks, initially developed to counteract the effects of these killers, were rendered useless against the most effective and widely used gas of the World War I, mustard gas.1 Although this development was an ineffective killing agent, its notorious ability to disable opponents prompted its rampant popularity. Mustard gas was unique in its capacity to target the organ at the frontline of man’s protection: the skin.

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