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War Surgery and Medicine

Lice Control

Lice Control

The standard of sanitation in New Zealand units was such that lice were rarely seen, but the delousing of prisoners was often a responsibility. The first delousing duties fell to the Field Hygiene Section in December 1940 in connection with the prisoner-of-war camp at Helwan. When the Division was in Syria, there were many Greek and other refugees coming across the Turkish border into Aleppo, and they were showered and their clothing disinfested. In Tunisia large numbers of prisoners were captured, and the disinfestor section of the Hygiene Section was called to work at high speed to clean many of these prisoners and their clothing as a preventive measure against a typhus epidemic. All vehicles carrying prisoners were sprayed out with formalin before returning to their units, to prevent the possible spread of lice.

Before going to Italy the troops received anti-typhus injections, but preventive measures against lice were not relaxed. In Naples there was an outbreak of typhus among civilians, but good control measures prevented its spread to troops, including New Zealanders page 726 who were in the area at the time. Later the laundry adopted the practice of adding DDT solution to rinse water to impregnate underwear.

Lice, and also scabies, became much more common among men of the Division in the latter half of 1945 when the troops were accommodated in buildings in and around the cities of Trieste and Florence, and when there was among them a high incidence of venereal disease.