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Remembered Today:

Diseases Commonly Found in the Trenches


Bingo794
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Is there any statistical data on disease in the trenches?

I would like to know which diseases were most commonly found amongst the men serving in France. Perhaps, the first ten or so.

DickW

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I have just found the service records for a relative of a friend. He was invalided out due to nephritis caused by the climate during the winter of 1915-16 in France. I would be interested to know if this is one of the common diseases of the trenches

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Enteric Fever (Typhoid)

Rheumatic Fever

Measles

Mumps

TB

Dysentery

Malaria

Scabies.

Loads of cases of Nephritis and Frostbite

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Their is a volume in the British Official History medical series that covers covers medical & casualty statistics and this (available as a reprint) should offer some useful stats on sickness and disease.

Don't forget that in some theatres malaria and dysentry were very common problems even though they were not so common on the Western Front.

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Wimeraux hospital records make regular references to dealing with Enteric Fever - however there is no way to tell if they caught this in hospital or bought it back wth 'em from the front.

My sister who was a nurse says that because Enteric is remarkably contagious and so they'd have needed to monitor and record it.

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For lice there is a decent downloadable thesis on the Centre for First World War Studies web site.

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They varied from year to year, but from the Official History, Casualties and Statistics, first 1916 [France and Flanders only]:

1. Venereal disease

2. Frostbite and trench foot

3. Nephritis

4. Dysentery

5. Rubella (German Measles, later known as Rose Measles)

6. Mumps

7. Enteric Fever (Typhoid and paratyphoid)

8. Tuberculosis

9. Measles

10. Pneumonia

And 1918:

1. Venereal disease

2. Dysentery

3. Frost bite and trench foot

4. Nephritis

5. Malaria [not sure where so much malaria came from, but that's what it says]

6. Mumps

7. Lobar Pneumonia

8. Diphtheria

9. Jaundice

10. (Joint) Measles/Tuberculosis

In order to maintain the will to live, I might have mis-read the occasional figure (just in case anyone else checks and comes up with a different answer!)

Sue

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Nice to see that the old estaminets kept the social contagion at the top of the league year after year :o

Enteric fever was largely caused by poor hygene (contact with feces), occasionally by flying insects that fed on feces, and spread through contamination by the infected. Army had isolation hospitals to deal with it; e.g., Addington Park. Antony

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5. Malaria [not sure where so much malaria came from, but that's what it says]

My guess is Salonika and Palestine

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Sue

Are your figures for WW1 as a whole or just the WF? Malaria was a major problem in Salonika, East Africa, Mespot and to a lesser extent other theatres including Palestine, Yemen etc. Moreover men who had recovered from it and returned to fight in Europe could come down with it again (and again). As some one who has had the beastly thing (caught in Nigeria) and come down with it again in Muscat, Brighton and Jeddah I can testify to this.

VD perhaps ought to be classed as a disease of the army rather than the trenches. It might be found there but (unless there is a whole new chapter of WW1 history to be written) I'm sure it was not usual to catch it there. It would be common away from the WF.

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I'm sorry - I was trying to multi-task (cooking tea) at the same time, and failed to mention that these figures are for France and Flanders only, and exclude Indian troops, who seemed to get a different set of illnesses. I've now edited the former post. But that's why I wondered about so many cases of malaria. I suppose they were men who had contracted it in other theatres, and then had relapses in F&F. I didn't think that malaria was not endemic in Northern France at that time.

Sue

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I can post the figures for other theatres if anyone is interested - there are just so many of them it's hard to know what to pick out.

Sue

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Yes, I'm sure you're absolutely right, and reading more carefully the statistics do seem to be very confusing. Under 'non-battle casualties' those figures (for 1918) are headed:

Table 17. Principal Recorded Causes of Admission to Hospital of British and Dominion Troops in France, 1918, with Deaths and Ratios per 1,000 of ration strength.

Which seems to be fairly straightforward. The top ten of these are as I gave, with Pneumonia, lobar, given as having 1,921 admissions, and 352 deaths, which seems pathetically low. However, reading the same chapter a few pages earlier, it says:

There was little or no infectious disease until influenza broke out with startling suddenness, first in June and July and again in October, in a world-wide epidemic which no medical service could control, and which laid low both friend and foe alike. The complete figures for the year are not available, but from 18th May to 10th August there were 226,615 admissions, including pyrexia of uncertain origin, and from 5th October to 28th December there were 87,323 admissions, including 6,627 cases of broncho-pneumonia, with 5,377 deaths.

So obviously my original reading of the figures is total rubbish somewhere along the line - I think I need to shut myself in a darkened room for a long time and try again when I emerge! But the sets of figures given certainly don't appear to tally.

Sue

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I can post the figures for other theatres if anyone is interested - there are just so many of them it's hard to know what to pick out.

Sue

Sue (and the rest of the contributors)

Thank you for your sterling effort in answering my initial question, I was interested particularly in the Western Front.

I would be most interested to read up on other theatres, as I am sure the others would.

Juggling cooking tea and the like is hard enough. Please carry on at your own pace. This is a fascinating thread.

DickW

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My grandad served with the 7th A&SH in F&F June 1916 to Dec 1916. We was invalided back to Britain to recover from serve leg ulcers. Presumably these were contracted by standing in a mud filled trench in winter wearing a kilt . He returned to the front some months later, and survived the war but was still plagued by the pain in his legs.

Andy

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IIRC didn't Haig come home from the WF with a recurrence of Malaria at some stage?

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He had previously served in Sudan and South Africa. He suffered from recurrent attacks of the disease at later dates.

Glen

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  • 2 months later...
I have just found the service records for a relative of a friend. He was invalided out due to nephritis caused by the climate during the winter of 1915-16 in France. I would be interested to know if this is one of the common diseases of the trenches

my grandfather was discharged in june 1918, after contacting nephritis in 1916 on the Somme.

he seemed to have spent a long time in hospital, and was never a fit man for the rest of his life.

.

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Cases of Crabs (Pubic Lice) were very common,i have also come across cases of Weils disease contracted by Men who had been bathing in Canals,Lakes,Ponds etc,etc.

http://www.le.ac.uk/bl/gat/virtualfc/weil.html

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What about fungal infections, I would say that sweat rash would probably be a problem, along with athletes foot, and potentailly ringworm.

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I guess this is a testament to the human immune system but I am always surprised that, given the exceedingly filthy if not toxic conditions in which men had to live, sleep, eat, drink day to day the rate of casualties caused by bacterial infections was not considerably higher.

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