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Health Lessons From History:
Open Air Treatment

Created on: 2023-07-24

In October 1918, Spanish Flu arrived in Boston, when thousands of crew members in ships in the area became dangerously stricken with the disease.

From a contemporary report:

"Doctor Harrington found that the worst cases of pneumonia came from that part of the ship where the ventilation was the worst."

The influx of patients threatened to overflow local hospital capacity. The State Guard was called on to establish a field hospital, which in less than ten hours time received its first patients, before midnight.

It was soon realized that patients treated in the field hospital fared much better than those treated within hospital buildings, no matter how well ventilated they were. Thereafter, on fine days, patients in the field hospital were taken out of their tents and put in the open, where the abundance of fresh air and sunlight helped them, literally saving lives.

Black and white photo of Camp Brooks field hospital, showing patients in their hospital beds out in the open, near their tents. Black and white photo of Camp Brooks field hospital, showing patients in their hospital beds out in the open, near their tents.

The reasons this worked were partly specific to Spanish flu, and partly general. This was an accidental rediscovery of "climate therapy", a branch of naturopathy. Climate therapy has a long history, reaching back into the ancient world. When used intentionally, a patient's exposure to sunlight is varied according to the illness and condition of the patient, and has been used to aid and cure many serious illnesses where there were historically few alternatives.

Returning to Boston in 1918, William Brooks, Surgeon General of the Massachusetts State Guard, wrote of his observations:

"The efficacy of open air treatment has been absolutely proven, and one only has to try it to discover its value."

-William Brooks1


: Brooks, W., The Open Air Treatment of Influenza, Am. J. Pub. Health, 1918

: Hobday, R., The Healing Sun, 1999

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