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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

Health and Hygiene

Health and Hygiene

In an effort to keep the sick rate of the Division as low as in the previous Italian winter, it was arranged that all men not actually in the most forward positions should have reasonably comfortable living conditions. All the field medical units, including 1 Mobile CCS, were well provided for in excellent buildings, and patients were treated under better conditions than had been possible the previous year.

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Combatant units out of the line were also able to make use of buildings and so provide for the comfort of the troops in the wet and cold conditions. Each man was issued with five blankets and five pairs of socks, and extra battle dress and underclothing were held by all units to allow frequent changes during the wet weather. Gumboots, leather jerkins, and duffle coats were also available.

Actually, owing to a reduction in the number of cases of infective hepatitis and fevers, the sick rate in the winter months showed a decline on the rate during the summer months. Accidental injuries, too, were fewer with the comparative immobilisation of the Division.

The quartering of troops in houses, however, made hygiene a much greater problem. The houses were usually also occupied by Italian civilians, it being found impossible to evacuate all civilians from the divisional areas. There then arose the problem of skin diseases, and other infectious diseases such as diphtheria, contracted from close living with an uncontrolled and relatively poor civilian population. Unit discipline down to the platoon or section level ensured the best control, but hot showers, adequate disinfestation, and the use of insecticide powder were all enforced on men in the forward areas. It was found better to dust the man and his clothes with insecticide rather than spray the billets, although this was done where possible. Living in towns and villages, where drains had been destroyed by shelling and bombing and where wells were thus contaminated, also raised problems, but rigid inspection and policing by 4 Field Hygiene Company ensured an adequate measure of control.

Rations: These were as a rule excellent, with fresh vegetables generally procurable, but in November there was less fresh food and ascorbic acid tablets were used.

Water: Adequate filtering and chlorination of water from the village wells, with rigid inspection, was carried out. The wells were mostly large and deep and the water satisfactory. There was a shortage of water carts and of trained staff for water duties, and fresh personnel had to be trained.

Refuse: At first deep pits were used and burnt out regularly. Later, controlled tips were developed, but constant supervision was necessary as there was a tendency to use them for fluid refuse.

Latrines: Deep-trench latrines were used when possible and buckets were sometimes used.

Showers: Buildings were found to be essential for showers during the winter weather. The showers were freely provided.

Malaria Control: General measures were limited to spraying of buildings with DDT and flysol. The troops used nets and repellent page 634 cream, and mepacrine tablets were taken every evening, generally under the control of an NCO, till the end of the season.

Typhus Prevention: This was of considerable importance as the billeting of the troops led to a marked increase in infestation by lice and pediculi. The enemy troops were also known to be heavily infested with lice. An anti-typhus unit was formed out of one of the anti-malaria units and was active in spraying out billets with DDT. Spraying squads were attached to ADSs. It was considered, however, that the personal dusting of the troops with insecticide was more effective and this was carried out. No typhus infection was encountered.