Medical Disease May Become More Prevalent Because of War

As history has shown us time after time, wars kill people, but equally alarming is the medical carnage that can be seen during the worst moments of the war and the aftermath. Diseases become opportunistic, and that can be deadly for those involved. Often, those that are most affected are those left behind in war-torn countries.

The impact of these infectious diseases, mental health, and more, significantly affect both the communities involved and those invaders who continued the onslaught.

If you look at wars like the Crimean War (1854-1856), there were approximately 34,000 combatants killed – British, French, and Russians during the war. Approximately another 26,000 died from their wounds. After all was said and done, another 130,000 died from infectious diseases – such as Cholera and Typhus Fever.

Fortunately, over time, the war against diseases began, and treatments with antibiotics, laboratories, surgeries, understanding microbes, mental health, and much more have taken place. As the 1900’s came along, there were still deaths from diseases, but they became far less than those killed by war itself.

Trench Fever became an issue during World War I.  If was first described in 1915 and became one of the leading causes of death by 1917. Its most famous victim was AA Milne, the author of Winnie-the-Pooh. Trench Fever was transmitted through body louse by inoculation of louse feces during scratching. Headaches started first, followed by shin pain, an enlarged spleen (splenomegaly), and an evanescent rash and fever that came and went for weeks. Soon Trench Fever seemed to disappear and was deemed an oddity for the time.

Typhus Fever also struck during World War I but wasn’t seen much on the Western Front. When Austria-Hungary fought Serbia, nearly 150,000 killed in the region were from Typhus Fever.

Another surprise killer was Gas Gangrene. New surgical measures were performed to save lives. The tissue, either during injury or before, was often infected with a bacterium caused by Clostridium species. These soil-borne anaerobes are particularly well-adapted to surviving in conditions after war and extremely harsh circumstances. It was necessary, after the initial injury, that the tissue be debrided as quickly as possible. Sometimes, amputation became necessary. If left untreated, it can be a potentially fatal infection.

The Influenza virus becomes a very concerning sickness following a war. The virus becomes easily transmitted through hospitals and areas where people come together for protection. When you are compromised or already sick, often the Influenza affects the lungs, and a serious case of pneumonia can be seen. Advancing antibiotics has been necessary to treat the infections secondarily caused by the Influenza virus.

Yellow Fever is a viral disease that can be transmitted quickly. There is a vaccine and some countries require the vaccine prior to entry. However, during the time after the war, where supplies and medical conditions are at its worse, this virus can be transmitted quickly. It has a short duration, maybe five days or so, but it can be devastating to a war torn community. The virus is transmitted through a mosquito bite. Back in 2013, 130,000 severe infections were seen with 78,000 deaths.  There is an estimated 20-50% of deaths for those who develop severe disease. Symptoms range from Jaundice, fatigue, heart rhythm problems, seizures, fever, and much more.

Malaria is another concerning condition that is transmitted through the bites of mosquitoes. In 2021, an estimated 247 million people contracted malaria. This was seen in 80+ countries and it was believed that 619,000 lives were lost. Malaria outbreaks have been seen, especially after wars. The treatment of Malaria was through quinine from the 17th century until around 1930s.  American troops, fighting in the South Pacific were hit hard and new treatments were discovered in 1943. Shortly after the war, chloroquine was identified, which has had an important impact on the treatment of Malaria.

Dysentery has been a concerning medical condition for many years and is often seen on the battlefield. It is believed that around 1915, soldiers from Egypt brought this infection with them. It is transmitted through flies and deposited on food. The transmission from there was quick. Stomach pains, diarrhea, and more are the typical symptoms. The more advanced conditions can cause Amoebic Hepatitis and Liver Abscesses.

Cholera outbreaks are often seen in war torn areas. This diarrhoeal disease can kill within hours if left untreated. It is estimated that each year, there are 1.3 – 4.0 million cases and between 21,000 and 143,000. It occurs when individuals ingest food or water that is contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio Choleae. This disease is easily treatable but the problem is that during the aftermath of war, the area involved may have a lack of healthcare, supplies, and much more. Patients can become dehydrated rapidly due to the loss of fluids through diarrhea.

After war, the displacement of people, the poor quality of food and water, poor healthcare, lack of access to food and water, can all contribute to the significant medical risks that can be seen. It is essential that steps be taken to ensure food, medicine, water, and more are all accessible for those involved in war.

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