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Hot Box: 1943

Hot Box: 1943

1943. "Melbourne, Australia. United States Army hospital. Patient receiving treatment in new fever machine which keeps temperature at 107 degrees (108 degrees is fatal). Note ice in basin and fan to cool head." Photo by Jo. Fallon for the Office of War Information. View full size.


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Better than the alternatives

Somebody wasn't paying attention when they showed the training film!

Before the mass production of penicillin was perfected in the late-1940s, pyrotherapy, or artificially induced fever, was one of the few effective ways to attenuate syphilis.

In the 1920s and 1930s, such fevers were often produced by infecting a patient with malaria. It often worked, sometimes completely clearing the infection, but it also killed about one in six patients.

Mechanical fever cabinets emerged as an alternative to malarial therapy. The cabinets were a bit safer and could be operated by less skilled personnel, but the big attraction was that they eliminated the sticky practical and ethical problems of maintaining a live serum with which to infect people. Malaria was notoriously hard to sustain outside of a host. Many mid-century asylums solved this problem by using non-syphilitic patients, usually chronic schizophrenics, from the "back wards" as hosts, but the army had no such population to draw on and deployed fever cabinets.

Malaria cure

Fever therapy gained some popularity in the 1930's as a means for treating malaria. It fell out of favor in the postwar years.

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