Disease Spreading Bugs Posed A Major Threat To Soldiers During World War One

Those of you who watch the History Channel most likely know that vector-borne disease outbreaks increase during wartime; this increase occurs in both civilian and military populations. Most modern Americans consider the threat of vector-borne disease during World War One to be the most well known example of how insects can spread disease during wartime. During World War One, both the belligerents as well as the allies were at risk of contracting diseases from bugs while cowering in filthy trenches. The tight environment within the trenches also allowed for the spread of parasites. Some of the most common vector-borne diseases contracted by civilians and soldiers during the first world war include malaria, trench fever, epidemic typhus as well as various types of intestinal parasites.

The first world war was fought between the years of 1914 and 1918. Malaria was the most common type of disease that spread among soldiers during the war. At one point during the war, the British, French and German Armies in Macedonia were unable to engage in battle due to the large number of malaria-infected soldiers on all sides. Their inability to fight lasted a full three years. Sixty thousand French soldiers were diagnosed with malaria in Macedonia, and twenty thousand of them were transported back to France in order to receive emergency medical attention.

Trench fever is another vector-borne disease that infected soldiers at exceptionally high rates during the first world war. The physical symptoms of trench fever are similar to the symptoms experienced by malaria sufferers; however, trench fever is spread by lice as opposed to mosquitoes. Between 1915 and 1918 up to five hundred and twenty thousand British soldiers fell ill as a result of contracting trench fever. Trench fever accounted for one third of all illnesses in the British Army and one fifth of all illnesses in the combined allied forces. Experts believe that the war led to a typhus outbreak that raged throughout eastern Europe between 1917 and 1923. Luckily, typhus outbreaks did not occur on the western front.

Do you think that vector-borne diseases are of concern to military leaders that are currently engaged in the war on terror?



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