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Trench fever

Trench fever
Classification and external resources
ICD-10 A79.0
ICD-9-CM 083.1
DiseasesDB 29814
eMedicine med/2303
MeSH D014205

Trench fever (also known as "five-day fever", "quintan fever" (febris quintana in Latin), and "urban trench fever"[1]) is a moderately serious disease transmitted by body lice. It infected armies in Flanders, France, Poland, Galicia, Italy, Salonika, Macedonia, Mesopotamia, and Egypt in World War I[2][3] (three noted sufferers being the authors J.R.R. Tolkien,[4] A. A. Milne,[5] and C.S. Lewis[6]), and the German army in Russia during World War I.[3] From 1915 to 1918 between one-fifth and one-third of all British troops reported ill had trench fever while about one-fifth of ill German and Austrian troops had the disease.[2] The disease persists among the homeless.[7] Outbreaks have been documented, for example, in Seattle[8] and Baltimore in the United States among injection drug users[9] and in Marseille, France,[8] and Burundi.[10]

Trench fever is also called Wolhynia fever, shin bone fever, Meuse fever, His disease and His–Werner disease (after Wilhelm His, Jr. and Heinrich Werner).

The disease is caused by the bacterium Bartonella quintana (older names: Rochalimea quintana, Rickettsia quintana), found in the stomach walls of the body louse.[3] Bartonella quintana is closely related to Bartonella henselae, the agent of cat scratch fever and bacillary angiomatosis.


  • Pathology and transmission 1
  • Symptoms 2
  • Diagnostics 3
  • Treatment 4
  • References 5

Pathology and transmission

Bartonella quintana is transmitted by contamination of a skin abrasion or louse-bite wound with the faeces of an infected body louse (Pediculus humanus corporis). There have also been reports of an infected louse bite passing on the infection.[3][11]


The disease is classically a five-day fever of the relapsing type, rarely exhibiting a continuous course. The incubation period is relatively long, at about two weeks. The onset of symptoms is usually sudden, with high fever, severe headache, pain on moving the eyeballs, soreness of the muscles of the legs and back, and frequently hyperaesthesia of the shins. The initial fever is usually followed in a few days by a single, short rise but there may be many relapses between periods without fever.[11] The most constant symptom is pain in the legs.[3] Recovery takes a month or more. Lethal cases are rare, but in a few cases "the persistent fever might lead to heart failure".[4][11] Aftereffects may include neurasthenia, cardiac disturbances and myalgia.[11]


Serological testing is typically used to obtain a definitive diagnosis. Most serological tests would succeed only after a certain period of time past the symptom onset (usually a week). The differential diagnosis list includes typhus, ehrlichiosis, leptospirosis, Lyme disease and virus-caused exanthema (measles or rubella).


Tetracycline-group antibiotics (doxycycline, tetracycline) are commonly used. Chloramphenicol is an alternative medication recommended under circumstances that render use of tetracycline derivates undesirable, such as severe liver malfunction, kidney deficiency, in children under nine years and in pregnant women. The drug is administered for seven to ten days.

The treatment for bacillary angiomatosis is erythromycin given for three to four months.[12]


  1. ^ Rapini, Ronald P.; Bolognia, Jean L.; Jorizzo, Joseph L. (2007). Dermatology: 2-Volume Set. St. Louis: Mosby. p. 1095.  
  2. ^ a b Justina Hamilton Hill (1942). Silent Enemies: The Story of the Diseases of War and Their Control. G. P. Putnam's Sons. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Francis Timoney, William Arthur Hagan (1973). Hagan and Bruner's Microbiology and Infectious Diseases of Domestic Animals. Cornell University Press. 
  4. ^ a b John Garth (2003). Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of  
  5. ^ Humphrey Carpenter; Mari Prichard (1984). The Oxford companion to children's literature. Oxford University Press. p. 351.  
  6. ^ CS Lewis (1955). Surprised By Joy. Harcourt. 
  7. ^ Milonakis, Eleftherios, and Michael A. Forgione. "Trench Fever". EMedicine. 26 June 2006. 11 June 2007 .
  8. ^ a b Ohl, M. E.; Spach, D. H. (1 July 2000). "Bartonella quintana and Urban Trench Fever". Clinical Infectious Diseases 31 (1): 131–135.  
  9. ^ Comer, James A. (25 November 1996). "Antibodies to Bartonella Species in Inner-city Intravenous Drug Users in Baltimore, Md". Archives of Internal Medicine 156 (21): 2491.  
  10. ^ Raoult, D; Ndihokubwayo, JB; Tissot-Dupont, H; Roux, V; Faugere, B; Abegbinni, R; Birtles, RJ. "Outbreak of epidemic typhus associated with trench fever in Burundi". The Lancet 352 (9125): 353–358.  
  11. ^ a b c d Edward Rhodes Stitt (1922). The Diagnostics and treatment of tropical diseases. P. Blakiston's Son & Co. 
  12. ^ Beghari S, Rolain J-M, Grau GE; et al. (2006). "Antiangiogenic effect of erythromycin: an in vitro model of Bartonella quintana infection". J Infect Dis 193 (3): 380–6.  
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