Thursday 24 March 2016

Epidemic Typhus Spread like Wildfire During the Second World War

It killed Anne Frank.  It killed her sister Margot.  It almost killed Rob's Oma.  It started with a cough, a severe headache and a rash; it led to severe muscle pain, chills, delirium and often death.  Its' name? Epidemic Typhus, otherwise known as camp fever.

During the Second World War, typhus hit at an epidemic rate.  Spread by infected lice, the disease ran rampant wherever hygiene was lacking and people's immune systems were low.  Typhus struck the Wehrmacht when they invaded the Soviet Union in 1941.  In 1942 and 1943, the disease hit North Africa, Egypt and Iran.  Camp fever killed thousands of inmates at Nazi concentration camps in Eastern Europe, particularly Bergen Belsen, where footage was taken of mass graves filled with typhus victims (up to 35,000 died just in the winter of 1945).  British troops burned the camp upon its discovery to prevent the spread of the dreaded disease.  Typhus spread even more often in cold weather, when its destitute victims were less likely to part with their clothing and bathe.

After the Second World War, Rob's Oma also stayed in a Soviet labour camp where she developped typhus.  For many camp inmates, that would have been the end.  However, the Russians recognizing what a hard worker Oma was, gave her quinine pills to fight the disease.  Thanks to the pills and Oma's determination, she cheated death.

For more information, read Epidemics Resulting from Wars by Friedrich Prinzing.

Pile of shoes from Bergen-Belsen

Survivors of Bergen Belsen sit in front of a massive pile of shoes from prisoners who perished, many due to epidemic typhus courtesy

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