Mosquitoes were as deadly as the Japanese. These insects were as dangerous as what the Japanese were and put the lives of the fighting men in Burma and the Pacific imperil. This thread takes us back to WWII and tells us how Allied scientists and the medical services conducted a vigorous war-within-a-war. T. S. DOUGLAS talks on the outcome of these battles against the jungle diseases.
The Allied armies in the Far East were fighting two wars, one against the Japanese and another against diseases that, flourished in the jungle. Malaria, dengue fever and other afflictions were quite as dangerous as the bullets of the Japs, and only constant war on them made fighting possible, at all. Conditions for medical units were far more difficult in the East than anywhere else, but with new methods and new drugs been performed what only a few years ago would have been considered "miracles" in keeping down casualties.
Just how serious a menace malaria could be was shown when Dr. H. Y. Evatt, Australian Minister for External Affairs, revealed that more than 80 per cent of the Allied forces in New Guinea were attacked by malaria. In the first Burma campaigns up to 85 per cent of the men suffered from malaria. By 1944 the position was very different. Malaria remained a great menace, but the armies had got to grips with it and a great degree of control had been achieved.
Malaria is spread by the blood-sucking female mosquito. The basis of prevention, then, is destruction of the mosquito, draining or otherwise dealing with its breeding grounds, and the wearing of protective clothing that prevents the little flying pest from biting. Destruction of the insect itself was not easy for Anopheles; the malaria carrying mosquito thrived everywhere in the East. The new insecticides, and especially the insecticide "bomb" which sprayed the air with a deadly and very effective poison, enabling huts, tents, and. so on, to be cleared simply and effectively. A “bomb" was about twice the size of a grenade and contained some hundreds of charges. One was enough to kill every mosquito in a small tent; a dozen would clear the fuselage of a bomber.
But unless the tent was mosquito-tight, others would eventually get in; and Anopheles would enter a hut every time the door was opened. Destruction of the mosquitoes would of course, reduce the chances of being bitten. But for thousands of men in the front line who had to sleep in the open insecticides could help little, although an anti-mosquito cream rubbed on the exposed skin had been helpful. One of the difficulties was that the great heat made men to discard clothing, thus increasing the area available for a mosquito bite. Until they realised that profuse sweating in clothes was generally better than getting bitten.
Battling against malaria, experts in 1944 reduced the incidence of the disease to 80 cases per 1,000 men, as told in the facing page. Method of draining a mosquito breeding swamp in New Guinea (1). Where drainage is Impracticable, oil or the highly effective new chemical Aerosol is spread on the water in North Burma a Chinese soldier is taught to spray oil on water filled shell-holes (2). Adjusting an oil drip-can over a New Guinea stream (3), and testing a jungle pool for the presence of larva of the virulent Anopheles (4)
Aeroplanes Versus Aquatic Larvae
Clearing the breeding grounds of the mosquitoes near all camps was one of the most effective measures. The mosquito lays its eggs on the surface of stagnant water ditches, ponds, swamps, fresh water of any kind. If the water was sprayed with oil, the aquatic larvae which hatch out of the eggs were suffocated. Great quantities of oil were used for this purpose, and the spraying had to be repeated at weekly intervals. Paris green was also used on marshes, and aeroplanes with special spraying devices was used for this "ousting," covering in an hour areas that would take a week or more to treat from the ground.
But, obviously, such measures couldn’t be taken by troops when they were fighting and moving into new areas. Protective clothing; and especially mosquito netting was helpful. But it was not easy to rig mosquito nets under active service conditions, and a hand or foot had only to protrude from the net for a minute during the night for Anopheles to do her deadly work. In some of the U.S. camps one man did a mosquito-net patrol all night, pushing back under the net the feet and arms of sleepers.
The most effective weapon against malaria, where front-line troops were concerned, had been a drug, mepacrine, or atabrine as it was called in the U.S. It was a little yellow pill and taken regularly it would ward off malaria. Mepacrine had proved virtually one hundred per cent effective in preventing malaria, as long as it was taken regularly. When the drug was stopped a certain number of takers may well have developed malaria, for it did not give immunity but it certainly enabled the men to have their malaria in comfort, so to speak. That is, the malaria was warded off until the soldiers returned to base, where they could be given hospital treatment. One U.S. correspondents reported that when beds we're short, doctors were naming the date when soldiers could have their malaria!
It was announced that 33 million doses of mepacrine were being prepared, and it was now a routine matter for men in the fighting lines to take their pills. It had proved so effective that the Japanese started putting out special propaganda designed to discourage men from taking mepacrine. But long and detailed experiment had shown that it could not in any way harm the taker. It was worth noting that the Japanese were no more immune from malaria than our men the mosquito bit without prejudice as to race or colour. Japanese anti-malarial measures were less effective than those of the Allies, despite the fact that in the East Indies they captured almost the whole of the world's sources of quinine, great specific for malaria.
One of the big problems in Burma had been the removal of men when they were sick or wounded; for many units were cut off from motor transport. Now, moving casualties by air had been brought to perfection. Small landing strips were continually being cut behind the advanced units. From these, light, planes would carry the casualties to larger strips, whence they would be transferred to specially equipped Dakotas. These flew them to base hospitals, thirty at a time. Whatever the conditions the sick and wounded would never have been left behind. By mule, or on an improvised stretcher borne by comrades, the casualty would be carried over difficult trails to the nearest airstrip.
Clouds of Insects Everywhere
On arrival at an advanced hospital a casualty was at once classified. If he needed special treatment or was unlikely to be fit again within a couple of months, he was flown, or taken by boat or hospital train, to India, Incidentally, every division in Burma had a front line psychiatrist, for jungle warfare was particularly liable to produce shock and nervous strain, Statistics showed that 90 per cent of the men they had treated returned fit and well.
Analysing Swamp-Water on the Moluccas island of Morotai, in the S.W. Pacific, a U.S. Navy malaria control team is grateful for the protection of a gunner, for there are snipers about as well as disease.
Just how far the Allies had gone in the prevention and treatment of malaria, dengue fever and other insect-carried diseases was revealed by Brigadier-General R. W. Bliss, assistant surgeon of the U.S. Army, after he returned from a tour of the Far East front. "When we first took over the Pacific Islands," he said, "there were clouds of insect’s everywhere tactually making it difficult to see. Today, if we locate one mosquito we consider it comparable to finding a four-leafed clover!"
He described how, on Saipan, medical sanitary squads divided the island into squares, like a chess board, and proceeded to kill every mosquito and drain or spray every potential breeding ground. D.D.T., the wonderful insecticide which ended the typhus epidemic in Naples, was sprayed from tree-top height by daring pilots. Dengue fever, also passed on by mosquitoes, was rife but has now practically disappeared. And Saipan Island has a “quarantine” so that no new mosquitoes can get in or out: every plane arriving or leaving has an insecticide bomb fired off in it before it lands or takes off.
On Saipan, Japanese medical stores were captured intact. They showed the poverty of their, equipment compared with the Allies. The standard Japanese outfit consisted of eight items. The standard U.S. equipment consisted of 600 items, There seemed no doubt the Japs had suffered much more heavily from sickness, and their surgeons have had orders to kill sick and wounded who showed little hope of rapid recovery.
There was newly tested an "insect-proof" uniform. A number of men, who volunteered, sat for an hour in a mosquito infested spot, half of them wearing the new uniform, half the old. The men in the new uniform averaged less than one bite apiece, those in the old uniform averaged 19 each.