New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy
Infective hepatitis first appeared in the Division at the end of September and then spread throughout Eighth Army. The disease was also present amongst the enemy troops at this time. It appeared that contact with infected troops or ground was responsible, and the infection arose when New Zealand troops took over from Italian troops ground that was grossly fouled and infested with flies. The flies and the difficulties of ensuring efficient sanitation added to the risks of infection.
Evacuation from the forward areas to the base, with a convalescence of four to six weeks, was proved necessary as cases retained in the Division were very slow to recover normal health. The disease caused serious wastage in the Division and it appeared that New Zealand personnel were particularly susceptible to the infection. No specific treatment was available, and rest and careful dieting was the routine.
Although hepatitis was only very rarely associated with severe illness or death, it caused marked debility with a slow convalescence and occasionally there was a relapse which necessitated invaliding.
It was found that the incidence in the different units was proportionate to the time they were stationed in the Alamein line. The Maoris had a much lower incidence. The epidemic began to decline in November when the Division passed out of the contaminated area after the Battle of Alamein, and the colder weather assisted in the control of the flies.
The number of cases reported in 2 NZEF during the period was as follows: June, 14; July, 23; August, 34; September, 146; October, 941; November, 793.