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I would like to add a personal anecdote to Scadding's article1 on bacillary dysentery in Egypt. In March 1944 I was admitted to hospital in Bangalore, India, with mild bacillary dysentery. My treatment consisted of repeated doses of a mixture of magnesium and sodium sulphate, the standard treatment at that time. It seemed to me that this purgation was perpetuating my original symptoms and that this might go on indefinitely. I therefore hatched a plot with the Italian orderly (Italian prisoners of war were employed as orderlies in hospitals in India) to chart my treatment but not to give it to me. The result was impressive; within 48 hours I was ‘formed’, and was discharged.
Scadding referred briefly to ‘Some probably harmful procedures were still sometimes advocated; for instance there was even the residue of the idea that saline purgation ought to be helpful in ridding the bowel of the infective agent.’ Exactly when sulphaguanide became available in India and South East Asia is not clear, but it was certainly in use in Singapore in September 1945. Stitt's Diagnosis, Prevention and Treatment of Tropical Diseases,2 published in 1943, clarifies the situation; after quoting a number of favourable trials of sulphaguanidine, it states, ‘A large supply of this drug has been very recently sent from the United States to Cairo for the use of the British armies in the Near East and Africa’—but not to India, apparently.
One wonders how many military man-hours were wasted by this useless purgative treatment.
Competing interests None declared.