Witley, March 2, 1917

Friday         Have got a sore throat swollen glands etc feeling much better tonight

Those symptoms sound ominously like mumps, but Percy is not taken off to hospital and it seems that he is going to escape the infections.

According to Andrew MacPhail’s history of the Medical Services, part of the official history of Canada in World War I, there were 9644 cases of mumps in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. By comparison, measles sent 2186 to hospital, of whom thirty died. These figures are very small in comparison with influenza, which struck almost four times as many soldiers, and killed nearly 800, not counting those cases complicated by pneumonia.(1)

Until widespread  vaccination, mumps was a common childhood disease, highly contagious and easily spread through saliva and respiratory droplets and by contact with, for example, utensils used by an infected person. In close quarters, such as a hut at Witley, sneezing would very effectively spread the virus – and a patient is infectious for a week before the symptoms appear and he can be isolated. (2)

Generally, adults suffer worse symptoms than children do, and there is a risk of serious complications – meningitis, pancreatitis, permanent deafness, and inflammation of the testicles, which may result (but only rarely) in sterility. (3) Still, you can imagine the anxiety among all those men in their twenties about the latter possibility.

(1) MacPhail, Andrew. The Medical Services. Official History of the Canadian Forces in the Great War 1914-1919. 1925 266, 268.
(2) “Mumps.” Wikipedia. Accessed February 23, 2017.
(3) Picard, Andre. “Mumps outbreaks underscore need for vaccinations.” Globe and Mail. February 25, 2017. A14. Picard reminds us that we have an effective vaccine against mumps, but it requires a booster — and now it seems that a second booster is required to give effective immunization, especially for young adults in close quarters — such as National Hockey League players in recent days.

Copyright 2017. See “More about this project.”


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