War Surgery and Medicine
The term ‘influenza’ was usually applied to short-term pyrexia, associated with symptoms of respiratory tract infection and occurring in epidemic form. Several outbreaks occurred in training camps in New Zealand, but only two of any significance among the troops of 2 NZEF. In March 1940 influenza occurred among the newly-arrived First Echelon in Egypt. A more serious epidemic involved the troops of the 5th Reinforcements travelling to the Middle East. In anticipation, all patients from 3 NZ General Hospital were transferred to 2 NZ General Hospital. When the convoy arrived on 13 May 1941 a special ambulance train took 290 cases of influenza, including 5 with pneumonia, direct to 3 NZ General Hospital. The incoming troops were segregated on arrival. A further 35 cases occurred in the next forty-eight hours, but the epidemic quickly abated and remained localised as a result of these precautions. There were no deaths from influenza in 2 NZEF.
There was a much higher incidence of influenza among troops in New Zealand than in those overseas, especially in the first half of the war. There was a widespread epidemic in the three main mobilisation camps in October 1939, and the numbers in each of the units of the First Echelon varied from 25 to 54 per cent of the strength of the units. The average period spent by page 578 the cases in camp hospitals was four days. It was found that the initial incidence was higher in tented units and that there was an improvement when extra tents were erected and the number per tent reduced from eight to six men. Factors lowering the resistance of the troops were, besides a certain overcrowding in tents and huts, dust arising from construction work in the camps, and the giving of TAB inoculations two or three weeks after the troops entered camp. Unit commanders were reminded of necessary preventive measures, including adequate air space and ventilation in sleeping quarters, provision for changes of wet clothing and ample drying facilities, and the avoidance of undue fatigue by graduated training.
It is recorded that there were 4685 cases of influenza from the main camps between January and September 1940, and in the winter of 1941 influenza was again very prevalent but mild in nature. In the winter of 1942, when many troops were mobilised for Home Defence, there were nearly 9000 cases recorded among troops, but the figures dropped in succeeding years to 736 in 1943, 369 in 1944, and 721 in 1945. Influenza was the most common cause of hospitalisation among troops in New Zealand. The number of deaths is not known, but for all respiratory disease from 1940 to 1944 the total deaths were only 17.