Western Front - Illness and Disease

Andrew Burke
Slide Set by Andrew Burke, updated more than 1 year ago
Andrew Burke
Created by Andrew Burke over 3 years ago
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Description

As part of our series on the Western Front WW1, this slide set looks at the new illnesses and diseases that emerged as part of this new trench warfare; infection, trench fever, trench foot, frostbite and bodylice.

Resource summary

Slide 1

    Illness and Disease
    Infection:  Infection of a wound was a major cause of death Bullet and shell fragments carried materials such as mud and soil into the body which often became infected  Many soldiers recovered from initial injuries but died from infections  The infection that caused the highest number of deaths was gas gangrene (carried by bacteria living in soil and develops rapidly)  Wounds infected by this bacteria swelled up with gas Before the development of antibiotics, doctors could do nothing to fight this infection 
    Trench fever: Also known as pyrexia, Trench fever was spread by lice that lived in clothing and blankets Its symptoms included headaches, shivering and pains in joints and bones  Trench fever was widespread  It debilitated soldiers leaving them unfit to fight July 1917 - July 1918: 15% British soldiers could not fight due to the fever To help combat the fever, clothes were disinfected and washed thoroughly when soldiers were not on the front line

Slide 2

    Illness and Disease
    Trench Foot:  Trench floors were quickly filled with water and mud in rainy conditions To prevent soldiers from standing in water-logged ground duckboards were utilised However, these did not stop a soldier from developing trench foot  This was a fungal infection from constant immersion of feet in water; feet became numb and blistered, while turning blue from lack of blood flow The condition deteriorated rapidly and could lead to gangrene, and sometimes the only preventative treatment was amputation  As trench foot became more common, medical officers ordered soldiers to regularly change socks and rub whale oil on their feet to repel water
    Caption: : Severe case of Trench foot

Slide 3

    Illness and Disease
    Frostbite:  This was caused by exposure to extreme cold, damaged skin and sometimes muscle tissue Circulation was cut off to hands and feet; fingers and toes sometimes had to be amputated  1917 - 21,000 British soldiers brought to hospital with frostbite  Body Lice:  Lived in the uniforms of soldiers and on the skin These insects live off the blood of their hosts  Their bites would have resulted in intense itching Sometimes wounds caused by the lice could become infected and lead to trench fever 
    Caption: : Patients in hospital
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