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War Surgery and Medicine

RNZAF in Pacific, 1943–45

RNZAF in Pacific, 1943–45

In the RNZAF in the Pacific more men were unfit and more time was lost from skin diseases than from any other type of disease. Twenty-eight per cent of the medical admissions in the area were on account of skin diseases—somewhat more than a quarter of the total illness.

On the whole, skin cases were off duty for longer than those suffering from other types of illness. More than a third—34 per cent of those unfit for more than three weeks—were hospitalised because of skin diseases.

Skin diseases also accounted for a large number of medical repatriations—125 out of 967 repatriations, or 13 per cent.

To give figures showing the widespread incidence of skin disease: in the first eight months of 1945 there were 1000 cases of skin disease in the force of 7800. Nearly a hundred of these cases were in hospital for more than three weeks before returning to duty, and a further 79 had to be repatriated. On the other hand, during the same period there were only 49 cases of malaria—of these there were only 4 cases who were in hospital for more than three weeks, and a further 6 who had to be repatriated.

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The incidence of skin disease was therefore twenty times greater than the incidence of malaria in 1945. Skin diseases represented the major problem for military personnel serving in the tropical Pacific.

Forty-nine per cent of the admissions for skin diseases were on account of infected wounds, ulcers, cellulitis, etc.; dermatitis, impetigo, eczema, etc., accounted for 27 per cent; boils and carbuncles for 12 per cent; tineal conditions for 6 per cent; paronychia for 3 per cent; and other conditions for 3 per cent of admissions.

Nearly half the hospitalisation for skin conditions was due therefore to infected wounds, ulcers, and cellulitis. These cases were also slower in responding to treatment than dermatitis, eczematous conditions, etc., and accounted for nearly 60 per cent of the ‘skins’ requiring more than three weeks in hospital.

On the other hand, nearly all cases of infected wounds and ulcers cleared up satisfactorily without having to be repatriated. During the whole period the RNZAF forces were in the Pacific only 13 men had to be sent back to New Zealand on account of ulcers and infected wounds, whereas 112 men had to be sent back with other skin conditions. From the point of view of permanent loss of manpower, dysidrotic and tineal conditions were much more serious than infected wounds.