Encyclopedia - Trench Fever

Belgian soldiers digging trenches 'Trench Fever' was first reported in the trenches of the Western Front in December 1914.

Unlike the similar-sounding condition Trench Foot incidences of Trench Fever continued to grow throughout the war.

Trench Fever attacked all armies and until the final year of the war baffled doctors and researchers.  Chief symptoms of the disease were headaches, skin rashes, inflamed eyes and leg pains.

Despite such wide-ranging symptoms (which resembled typhoid and influenza) the condition was not itself particularly serious, with patients recovering after some five or six days although prolonged hospitalisation amounting to several weeks was common.

In military terms however it proved one of the most significant causes of sickness and military authorities were therefore keen to determine the root of the problem.

In 1918 the cause was identified as excretions from lice, affecting all trenches: Rickettsia quintana.  The disease was transmitted via the bites of body lice and was chiefly prevalent on the somewhat warmer Western and Italian Fronts.

In 1917 a renewed incidence of the disease was recorded with effects much as before although the average duration of sickness was slightly longer.  In 1918 victims reported suffering frequent relapses after intervals of several days. 

A respirator was a gas mask in which air was inhaled through a metal box of chemicals.

- Did you know?

A to Z