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War Surgery and Medicine

Middle East Experience

Middle East Experience

In 2 NZEF in the Middle East up to February 1942, of the 2000 men who had been invalided back to New Zealand approximately 3 per cent had been returned because of skin disease.

In 1943 it was calculated that cases of skin disease accounted for 10 per cent of the total hospital admissions for the whole of the Middle East Forces. The 2 NZEF had its share of skin complaints along with other Allied forces. Some of the conditions proved difficult to clear up in the tropical climate, and resulted in numbers of men being invalided back to New Zealand. Common causes of invaliding were ‘sweat dermatitis’ and seborrhoeic eczema. page 689 By February 1942, 55 men with skin disease had been returned to New Zealand and the number had increased to 326 by the end of the war. Of the complete total, there were 165 cases of eczema and 70 of dermatitis.

Statistics for hospital admissions in 2 NZEF, MEF and CMF, from July 1941 to December 1945 show the commoner diagnoses to be: dermatitis 494, dermatitis seborrhoeica 380, dermatitis chemical allergic 81, eczema 415, impetigo contagiosa 542, tinea 319, urticaria 200, herpes zoster 194, ecthyma 162, psoriasis 138. Inflammation of the areolar tissue, boils and abscesses, cellulitis, etc., were more numerous but are not dealt with as skin infections. (See Appendix.)

The common skin diseases which affected troops in the Middle East were predominantly the same as those occurring in New Zealand, but their course and severity were often influenced by climate, and generally accepted principles of treatment sometimes required modification. Excessive sweating in hot weather predisposed some men to certain skin troubles. Mechanical irritation by sand in desert areas aggravated many skin diseases. The large number of flies increased the risk of spread of infection, hence most skin lesions were best kept covered. Heat and relative humidity influenced treatment. In a hot, dry climate lotions and paints can rarely be used for long periods; rapid drying causes cracking of the surface, with exudation of serum, which readily becomes infected. Pastes are usually the best media for applying medicaments to moist or weeping lesions, even in the acute stages.