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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Internal Parasites


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Hi All,

Having recently been treated for intestinal worms after picking them up from the pet dogs, it made me wonder if such infections were also applicable to the serving soldiers in the trenches. If so, was it very common and what was the treatment offered.

Also apart from these intestinal parasites, what other nasty beasties would a serving soldier be likely to come into contact with apart from the body lice, that seems to crop up in many trech life literature?



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Exactly the same pests as today (I don't think any have either gone extinct or new ones evolved in the last 100 years). In parts of Africa the horrible Guinea worm that grows inside flesh and burrows out when it is time to reproduce was widespread and a source of problems for the armies fighting there, today it is on the edge of extinction thanks to human intervention. The human flea would have been far more common in WW1 (the fleas that bother people today are generally either canine or feline fleas) By WW2 flea circuses were reduced to collecting 'performers' from "Hartlepool crane drivers' socks" according to one of the last proprietors interviewed by the BBC. There is a particularly vicious breed of human flea - the Spanish flea that was also widespread in parts of France in the WW1 period. Bed bugs were also around in significant quantities and I gather it was a first lieutenants nightmare that they became established on his ship as they were particularly difficult to eradicate. They could be brought on board hidden in the kit bags of sailors returning from shore leave or treatment in on shore hospitals. {The problem of the bed bug was one reason why there was resistance to the abandonment of the hammock in favour of cots). The low temperature cooking using 'tommy cookers' in trenches has been said to have encouraged the spread of internal parasites, especially those that can be present in pork products.

I'll stop now - I'm beginning to feel itchy just writing this!

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Fleas had already been mentioned :innocent:

So, I'll add Trichinosis.

Which I had in effect already mentioned "internal parasites, especially those that can be present in pork products." and the OP said " apart from the body lice" which is why I didn't mention those.

However I will add Trombiculidae known in the Americas as Chiggers. Although not biologically identified as a seperate parasitic species until WW2 these were common in some areas of France, England and Ireland. They are picked up by contact with grass stalks

"Chiggers attach to the host, pierce the skin, inject enzymes into the bite wound that digest cellular contents,] and then suck up the digested tissue through a tube formed by hardened skin cells called a stylostome. They do not burrow into the skin or suck blood, as is commonly assumed. Itching from a chigger bite may not develop until 24–48 hours after the bite, so the victim may not associate the specific exposure with the bite itself.] The red welt/bump on the skin is not where a chigger laid eggs, as is sometimes believed. The larva remains attached to a suitable host for 3 to 5 days before dropping off to begin its nymph stage."

Not likely to be picked up in the trenches they would effect troops in the rear areas especially those handling hay for horses and were normally misdiagnosed as scabies. They can itch (as a small child helping with the hay making in rural Sligo I picked them up and was treated by being laid on a farmhouse kitchen table and washed down with very strong vinegar)

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Which I had in effect already mentioned "internal parasites, especially those that can be present in pork products."

Trichinosis can also be spread by Rats as well as these from a study of Rats on British farms in 1995. Not all can be spread to humans:

Helminths (worms):

the oxyuroid pinworm Syphacia muris in 67% of the rats

the strongoloyd parasite Nippostronglyus brasiliensis found in 23%

the liver worm Capillaria in 23%

the cestode Hymenolepsis diminuta in 22%

Toxocara cati causing Toxocariasis in 15%

the oxyuroid pinworm Heterakis spp. in 14%

the cestode Hymenolepsis nana in 11%

the intestinal tapeworm Taenia taeniaeformis in 11%


Leptospira spp. bacteria causing Weil's disease in 14%

Listeria spp. bacteria causing listeriosis in 11%

Yersinia enterocolitica bacteria causing yersiniosis in 11%

Pasturella spp. bacteria causing Pasturellosis in 6%

Pseudomonas spp. bacteria causing Meilioidosis in 4%


Cryptosporidium parvum causing cryptosporidiosis in 63% of the rats

Toxoplasma gondii causing toxoplasmosis in 35%

Trypanosoma lewisii in 29%

Eimeria separata in 8%


Coxiella burnetti evidence of infection by Q fever in 34%


Hantavirus causing Hantaan-fever or hemorrhagic fever in 5%

Ectoparasites (note: these ectoparasites are vectors for diseases which are transmissible to humans, such as typhus)

Fleas found on 100% of the rats

Mites found on 67%

Lice found on 38%

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