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Osteomyelitis (cause of death)


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Can anyone tell me about osteo myelitis (or osteomyelitis as it seems to appear in modern sources), particularly in the context of WW1. I gather that it is an infectious disease of the bone and that one, but not the only way of infection is when the bone is exposed in a wound.

 

It is given as the cause of death of Gnr James Murray, 360 of C Battery, 106 Brigade RFA (Scottish Minor Records, Military Returns).  He died on 22 September 1915, possibly at 1 Casualty Clearing Station. He had been in France for three weeks. The Daily Casualty List reports him as "died" and the Registers of Soldiers' Effects as having died "In the F[ie]ld".

 

106 Brigade was part of 24 Division which I think, landed at the end of August 1915  but was hurried into action without the usual training/ acclimatisation.

Unfortunately the war diary of C Battery has not survived.

 

At the moment I am inclining to the view that James Murray died as the result of infection after an accident or else another form of infection and not as the result of a wound, but it would help to know more about osteomyelitis.

 

RM

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I'm sure you can google plenty on the subject, but I can tell you from personal experience that an open wound is not the only way to contract it. I developed it as a child, in the ankle, possibly related to a footballing incident. There was no open wound and little if any bruising, but the infection developed quickly and I was hospitalised for the best part of a year. Amputation was discussed at one point. 

Without a doubt it was a serious disease and in the days before penicillin quite deadly.

I could also invoke Godwin's Law and say that Josef Goebbels  contracted osteomyelitis as a child, he and I chose different paths though.

Edited by Peter Mc
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10 minutes ago, Peter Mc said:

I'm sure you can google plenty on the subject, but I can tell you from personal experience that an open wound is not the only way to contract it. I developed it as a child, in the ankle, possibly related to a footballing incident. There was no open wound and little if any bruising, but the infection developed quickly and I was hospitalised for the best part of a year. Amputation was discussed at one point. 

Without a doubt it was a serious disease and in the days before penicillin quite deadly.

I could also invoke Godwin's Law and say that Josef Goebbels  contracted osteomyelitis as a child, he and I chose different paths though.

Thank you Peter.

That is very useful. It sounds very unpleasant.

RM

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A late cousin of mine suffered for many years with Osteomyelitis amongst other things which had developed through her being a severe diabetic 

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Dai Bach y Sowldiwr

The only thing to add to Peter Mc's account is to say that in the absence of an open fracture,  the infection is usually bloodborne, perhaps from a boil or carbuncle or similar.

In those days, I'd think that the two most important infective agents were  1) Staphylococcus (the germ that causes boils and carbuncles) and 2) Tuberculosis.

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Am I right in thinking, Dai, that Staph. is prevalent in damp agricultural land?

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Dai Bach y Sowldiwr
8 hours ago, seaJane said:

Am I right in thinking, Dai, that Staph. is prevalent in damp agricultural land?

 

Now you're asking.

I wouldn't know.

If it it, then there must be tons of the stuf round this way.

 

It's common, it's everywhere, up your nose, in your bowels, on your skin.

Even in an otherwise sterile environment, you could still get osteomyelitis.

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Something's ringing bells somewhere - it may be another bacillus that I'm thinking of.

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Dai Bach y Sowldiwr
1 hour ago, seaJane said:

Something's ringing bells somewhere - it may be another bacillus that I'm thinking of.

 

Maybe it's your tinnitus playing up?

Or a wedding?

:thumbsup:

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Coat!

 

Okay, I've remembered which bug it was, i.e. the one that causes gas gangrene. Clostridium, if I recall correctly, found in the fertilised farmlands of the Western Front and in the "green zones" (irrigation canals) in modern Afghanistan.

Edited by seaJane
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Dai Bach y Sowldiwr

Different strains of Clostridia to be had.

The one we all know and love- Clostridium tetani (obviously causes tetanus) - the spores can survive in  soil for years and years, especially soil which was heavily dosed with horse manure.

They look like little drumsticks under the microscope.

You have no natural immunity to CT.

You used to still hear of little old ladies dying of it fairly recently after an inocuous garden injury like being pricked by a rose thorn.

Widespread in the third world.

One tribe somewhere had an extremely high infant mortality rate.

It transpired that part of the birthing ritual was to plaster the infant's healing umbilical scar with cow dung....

 

Gas gangrene (Clostridium welchii in my day, now C. perfringens)- a thoroughly nasty disease then and now.

Edited by Dai Bach y Sowldiwr
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Thanks (or should that be diolch?) for the clarification Dai. 

 

 

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I'm not closing the discussion.

 

But very sincere thanks to all of you.

Your information has been very useful. The modern notes on the condition tend to downplay its seriousness. You've helped me to see how dangerous it was even within my lifetime.

 

The discussion about sources of infection was very useful. I noticed that somewhere it said that a fungal infection was also a possible source. The comments on gas gangrene were a bonus as I am also researching a man who died of that.

 

I don't think I am going to find exactly how James Murray came to die. Since there was only three weeks between his arrival in France and his death, I think that he did not see action and either had an accident or in some other way contracted ortheomyelitis and died. He is buried in Chocques Military Cemetery so it seems likely that he died at 1 Casualty Clearing Station.

 

RM

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As a young radiographer in the 70.s had to x-ray the leg of an older gentlemean, already with a lower leg amputation who had developed suspected gas gangrene. The xray was taken with a horizontal beam to show up any fluid levels in gas pockets . Indeed multiple small levels were visible and the only prospect was further amputation. In WW1 it was a race to amputate high enough and quickly enough to prevent upward spread which would inevitably be fatal. One of the reasons why the war produced so many amputees.  SG

Edited by salientguide
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Gas gangrene (usually caused by clostridium perfringens) would kill an individual before the onset of osteomyelitis.  I think there is some confusion here.

Osteomyelitis in adults is usually caused by staphylococcus aureus, but also by some anaerobes and Gram -ve organisms such as pseudomonas aeruginosa.  Osteomyelitis is usually caused by an injury causing exposure of the bone to local infection, by the blood stream.  Treatment - antibiotics and/or amputation.  WW1 no antibiotics therefore if infection is great then obviously amputation.

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