World War I trench sickness found in Canada's homeless population

The illness can lead to a fatal heart infection

Graig Graziosi
Monday 07 December 2020 20:55 GMT
Trench fever is a bacterial disease that can be fatal if untreated (stock photo)
Trench fever is a bacterial disease that can be fatal if untreated (stock photo) (serikbaib / iStock by Getty)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Homeless people in Canada have contracted a disease known for afflicting World War I soldiers fighting in the trenches of Europe, according to health reports.  

Trench fever - bacterial disease that can be fatal if untreated - was found to be present among some of the country's homeless population, particularly those living in dense urban areas. The finding was revealed in the Canadian Medical Association Journal on Monday.  

According to CTV News, the bacterial disease killed millions of World War I troops between 1914 and 1918. The afflicted suffer from symptoms that include muscle and headaches, rashes, shin pain and fever.  

If left untreated, trench fever can lead to endocarditis, a potentially fatal heart infection.

Carl Boodman, an infectious disease expert at the University of Manitoba, released a statement calling on public health practitioners to be aware that the disease is present.  

“Our public health message is that this disease is present in Canada and that people and physicians aren’t always aware,” he said. “It’s associated with homelessness and homeless shelters, and physicians should consider B. quintana infection in people who are unwell and have a history of body lice infestation.”

The study cited one incident in which a 48-year-old man checked himself into a hospital in Manitoba after suffering chest pain and shortness of breath. He had sought help several times over the course of 18 months for chest pain and "body lice infestation."

After four days in the hospital, the man underwent a mitral and aortic valve replacement operation for severe valvular damage his heart suffered due to the trench fever.  

Three other cases were reported in Winnipeg over the course of six months. Each of the individuals had stayed in the same homeless shelter. Prior to the recent string of cases, there had only been four cases of trench fever in Canada in the past twenty years.  

Researches believe there are more cases, but due to its concentration among Canada's homeless population, many of the cases likely remain unreported.  

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