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The Cost of a Splendid Little War

Surgery and Asepsis

CP3085_thb Approximately 1,500 soldiers were wounded during the Spanish-American War and the great majority of those had been injured in the month of fighting in Cuba. Many wounds were minor since the Spanish used a steel-jacketed Mauser bullet which caused relatively little damage at long range. Recognizing the role of disease-causing germs, nurses and doctors kept wounds clean by using disinfectants. SAW87_thb With operating rooms being disinfected, instruments made of metal and sterilized, and surgeons washing their hands before operating, fewer soldiers were infected during their surgery than in previous conflicts. Reduced rate of infections gave surgeons the luxury of operating less often - a "conservative" approach - and amputations became infrequent. Abdominal wounds were more treatable as well. Due to aseptic techniques the mortality rate for wounded soldiers SAW95_thb was half what it had been during the Civil War, 6.64% compared to 12.96%.