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Airborne diseases: Tuberculosis in the Union Army


  • Birchenall, Javier A.


This paper examines the medical histories of a sample of 25,000 Union Army soldiers and veterans to study the determinants of diagnosis, discharge, and mortality from tuberculosis. We find that water and airborne diseases during the war contributed significantly to the presence of tuberculosis. Height and a higher body mass index (BMI) are also associated with protection against TB but these effects are not always robust. As an upper bound, we estimate that the contribution of modern gains in height and in BMI to the mortality decline of tuberculosis ranges from one-fourth to one-half with the rest explained by the decline in the prevalence of water and airborne diseases, especially diarrhea, dysentery, and typhoid played. The paper finds weaker support for alternative hypotheses that rely on occupational influences and exogenous changes in the virulence of tuberculosis.

Suggested Citation

  • Birchenall, Javier A., 2011. "Airborne diseases: Tuberculosis in the Union Army," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 48(2), pages 325-342, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:exehis:v:48:y:2011:i:2:p:325-342

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Olmstead, Alan L. & Rhode, Paul W., 2004. "An Impossible Undertaking: The Eradication of Bovine Tuberculosis in the United States," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 64(03), pages 734-772, September.
    2. Lee, Chulhee, 1997. "Socioeconomic Background, Disease, and Mortality among Union Army Recruits: Implications for Economic and Demographic History," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 34(1), pages 27-55, January.
    3. Costa, Dora L., 2003. "Understanding mid-life and older age mortality declines: evidence from Union Army veterans," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 112(1), pages 175-192, January.
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    Cited by:

    1. Robert W. Fogel, 2004. "Changes in the Disparities in Chronic Disease during the Course of the Twentieth Century," NBER Working Papers 10311, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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