Diseases

Diseases
Most of the men experienced one or more like three of the diseases mentioned here. From starvation the prisoners experienced many malodies such as Beriberi, Pelagra, Scurvy, Dysentery and other health problems were due to the location and nature of the camp and their captors. No matter what the illness, starvation made matters worse for all of the prisoners.

Poor water and mosquitoes brought the men Cerebral Malaria and Dengue Fever. Both debilitating diseases commonly occurred in the tropics.

Dengue Fever – Prisoners with Dengue fever suffered from extreme pain and stiffness in their joints, fever and blinding headache.

Cerebral Malaria – Prisoners afflicted with Malaria suffered from recurring bouts of chills and fever.

Bataan, especially the southern part of the peninsula, was malaria country. There was no such thing as a working mosquito control plan; no one had the energy. Malaria was awful, chills and shakes, racking fevers and splitting headaches, hallucinations and terrible debilitating depression. Prophylaxis was 5 grains of quinine a day, meaning three million tablets a month were needed on Bataan. Through part of February there was enough, but not beyond then, and by the start of March only men already suffering were getting their dose. . . By March, with the Japanese sack drawing down more and more tightly, the disease was turning epidemic. By the end of the month, 75 to 80 percent of frontline troops had malaria, and quinine was down to a week’s supply.” Prisoners of the Japanese, Gavin Daws, p. 70.

Malaria was all over the camps as well. The biggest quinine factory in the wold was on Java, but the prison camps got hardly any pills. . . on the waterfront gangs (prisoners) loaded bagged quinine powder, and inhaled the dust. Other than that, the only thing the prisoners could do was keep an eye out along the way for cinchona bark (some species are the source for quinine), and pound it into a powder with stones. . . there was never enough quinine, never enough mosquito nets either, and so malaria was a killer. Prisoners of the Japanese, Gavin Daws, p. 120.
The camp hospitals had very limited supplies of quinine to treat malaria. Without adequate medications, prisoners developed anemia, clogged blood vessels of the cerebral tissues, jaundice, and enlargement of the Spleen and Liver.

Dysentery – From the start in the camps dysentery was the big killer. At Cabanatuan, in the first months, following directly on O’Donnell. 90 Percent of all deaths were from dysentery.  Prisoners of the Japanese, Gavin Daws, p. 120. 

Many POWs suffered from predictable vitamin deficiencies – scurvy, pellagra, protein edema, beriberi and more.

Before the war the Japanese knew as much as anyone did about beriberi, in fact more than most. A deficiency of vitamin B1 would bring it on, and within a diet high in carbohydrates – for example, a rice diet – extra B1 was needed. Prisoners of the Japanese, Gavin Daws, p. 121.

Beriberi – wet and dry
Beriberi refers to a cluster of symptoms caused primarily by a nutritional deficit in Vitamin B1 (thiamine). Beriberi has conventionally been divided into three separate entities, relating to the body system mainly involved (peripheral nervous system or cardiovascular) or age of patient (infantile). Beriberi is one of several thiamine-deficiency related conditions which may occur concurrently, including Wernicke’s encephalopathy (when mainly affects the central nervous system), Korsakoff’s syndrome (when it reaches psychiatric aspects), and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (with both neurologic and psychiatric symptoms).

Historically, Beriberi has been endemic in regions dependent on what is variously referred to as polished, white, or de-husked rice. Rice has its husk removed in order to extend its lifespan also has the unintended side-effects of removing the primary source of thiamine.[1] Wikipedia

Hemorroids and hernias – Got out of hand for the POWs.

Tinea – Tinea means athlete’s foot; in the tropical camps it was ferocious. It would attack hands as well as feet, get under nails and invade. It was savage on the scrotum . . . At sick call the tinea scrotums would line up in a row; the medical officer would paint them with whatever he had; iodine or potassium permanganate or Formalin; the sufferers would buck and hollar; and the medical corpsman would be following along, fanning with a hat to soothe the sting. The worse place for a tinea attack was the penis itself, under the foreskin; fungus fulminating inside there would drive a man mad. There were prisoners who had to be circumcised because of it, and  odds were that they would have to take the cut without any anesthetic . . . because there was none. Prisoners of the Japanese, Gavin Daws, p. 120.

Scabies – If it was not tinea rotting the crotch, then it was scabies. It started with scrotal dermatitis, and went on to stomatitis, glossitis, erythema, conjunctivitis, optic atrophy, corneal ulcers, ulcers in the corner of the mouth, fissures in the tongue. Prisoners all over the Co-Prosperity Sphere came down with many serious infections. They looked vague and wasted, they walked slowly and uncertainly, spraddle legged, and their jap-happied were sopping with blood. Prisoners of the Japanese, Gavin Daws, p. 121.

Rats and Roaches – There were rats, and there were roaches, and an assortment of other vermin that most mid-twentieth-century white men had never seen . . . let alone cohabit with, skin to skin. All night rats went charging around on the floor, playing football with the mess kits, or up in the thatch roof, scuttling along the rafters, shitting down. Never sleep with your mouth open. Prisoners of the Japanese, Gavin Daws, p. 123.

Fleas, lice and bedbugs – He was coming back from the benjo (latrine) with his legs black with fleas. Lie down on the sleeping mat, turn over and the lice would run footraces to get from underneath. And bedbugs – one night they would be biting a man so fiercely it was like having a perpetual blood transfusion taken . . . Turn the bedding over every day, and so many bedbugs would pour out they looked like peppercorns spilled on the floor. Squash them and the stench was appalling – take a vote among the prisoners, and of all the terrible smells of camp they would elect that one the worst. Tenko (Roll Call) was not the time for lice picking; that would bring on a beating. In the chow line, though, or waiting to go out on work detail, prisoners would groom each other, sociably, like monkeys. Prisoners of the Japanese, Gavin Daws, p. 123-124.