Medical Definition of Trench fever

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Trench fever: A disease borne by body lice that was first recognized in the trenches of World War I, when it is estimated to have affected more than a million people in Russia and on the fronts in Europe. Trench fever was again a major problem in the military in World War II and is seen endemically in Mexico, Africa, E. Europe, and elsewhere.

Urban trench fever occurs among the homeless people and people with alcoholism today. Outbreaks have been documented, for example, in Seattle, Baltimore (among injection-drug users), Marseilles (France) and Burundi.

The cause of trench fever is Bartonella quintana (also called Rochalimaea quintana), an unusual rickettsial organism that multiplies in the gut of the body louse. Transmission of the rickettsia to people can occur by rubbing infected louse feces into abraded (scuffed) skin or into the conjunctivae (whites of the eyes).

The disease is classically a 5-day fever. The onset of symptoms is sudden with high fever, severe headache, back pain and leg pain and a fleeting rash.

Recovery takes a month or more. Relapses are common.

The organism (B. quintana) that causes trench fever also has been found responsible for a disease called bacillary angiomatosis in people infected with HIV and for infection of the heart and great vessels (endocarditis) with bloodstream infection.

Trench fever is also called Wolhynia fever, shin bone fever, quintan fever, five-day fever, Meuse fever, His' disease, His-Werner disease, Werner-His disease.

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Reviewed on 12/31/2018

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