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The Invisible Front: The Diseases of World War I
Transcript of The Invisible Front: The Diseases of World War I
Dysentery was one of the most globally common diseases during the war due to contaminated water.
Dysentery caused soldiers to have stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and in extreme cases, death from dehydration.
Trench fever was a significant medical issue of the war, for all armies. First reported in December 1914, medics fought to understand and control it throughout the war.
Symptoms of the disease were headaches, skin rashes, inflamed eyes and intense leg pains. Not often deadly, but was cyclical and returned months later.
Trench fever was caused by rickettsia bacteria, which lived in lice. Lice were rampant among soldiers in tight living conditions.
Numbers for trench fever vary, but it is estimated that louse infestation of the officers and men ran at about 97%.
Records show that 800,000 to 1 million Allied soldiers would be infected by fever. The most troubling issue was that it became chronic. At least 80% would lose on an average, at least three months off duty.
The invisible front:
Jessi Donnelly | historygoesviral.com
Treatments for dysentery include the use of antibiotics, fluids,and in severe cases blood transfusions.
Water contaminated easily because sanitation in the trenches was impossible.
Dysentery was caused by a variety of microbes. Bacteria, viruses, or parasites could all be to blame.
Cholera and dysentery are very similar, but caused by different microbial agents.
German soldiers were vaccinated against cholera, but it still hit Austria, Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire particularly hard.
1/3 of military deaths of all belligerents
2 million+ Military dead
6 million civilians dead from disease (and famine)
1918 influenza: 20-50 million military and civilian Dead
Why did illness take such a toll?
Lack of sanitation
Many antibiotics and vaccines undiscovered
Conditions of war meant lowered immunity
It was more common for a soldier to die of illness than gunshot wounds, gas, or shell fire.
Typhus, a cousin to Trench Fever, spread throughout the Eastern Front. The epidemic was deadly, records indicate 3 million died.
Typhus, like Trench Fever, was spread by lice.
Typhoid fever was caused by ingesting contaminated food or water. This bacteria was a type of Salmonella.
Not widespread on Western Front because a vaccine was available, widely used by British and American armies.
Estimated 200,000 Ottoman soldiers died of Typhoid during war. (466,000 deaths total from disease.)
Malaria comes from a parasite found in mosquito bites. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, vomiting, and headache. In severe cases it caused cause yellow skin, seizures, coma, or death.
There were 800,000+ cases of malaria recorded in Eastern Europe and Ottoman Empire (including Italy).
Scientists knew what caused malaria, but military prevention and field treatment was unable to keep up with outbreaks.
spring 1918: U.S. Army Camps decimated by flu, with thousands of soldiers ill.
flu would kill more people worldwide than all of the first world war.
The virus traveled with military personnel from camp to camp and across the Atlantic.
September through November 1918, influenza sickened 20% to 40% of U.S. Army and Navy personnel.
High morbidity rates derailed training in the United States and rendered hundreds of thousands of military personnel non-effective.
War dead: 38 million
influenza dead: 20-50 million
Almorth E. Wright
Creator of British Typhoid Vaccine