Surgical dressing substitutes, Europe, 1914-1918
During the First World War, there was a great demand for surgical dressings. At one time demand outstripped the supply and therefore any spare materials were used as dressings. The greatest shortages developed in Germany after an effective naval blockade prevented supplies of materials reaching German ports. Surgical dressing substitutes were made from a range of textiles, including curtains, cotton muslin and cotton used for petticoats. Perhaps the most unusual material in this group is sphagnum moss. It was first used on a large scale by the Japanese during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). Sphagnum was actually an ideal material as it was good for absorbing and keeping hold of liquids, and it had a cooling and soothing effect. Most importantly sphagnum had antiseptic properties which would help prevent infection and gangrene.
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Glossary: surgical dressing
The practice of using antiseptic drugs to eliminate harmful micro-organisms.
Glossary: gas gangrene
Death and decay of wound tissue infected by a soil-based bacteria. Toxins produced by the bacterium cause decay of connective tissue and the generation of gas.