Dhobie Itch

July 12, 2009

Given the tropical climate, camp conditions and meager diet, POWs at Changi were soon succumbing to a variety of digestive and deficiency diseases.  Many also suffered from fungal complaints such as ‘Singapore foot’ (athlete’s foot), ‘tropical ringworm’ and ‘dhobi itch.’

My father contracted dhobi itch — a fungal infection of the groin — within weeks of arriving at Changi.  His early notes contain a number of descriptions of the condition as well as questions about its relationship to other infections.

I am quite convinced that this is the same thing as Tropical Ringworm….  There is a greater inflammation at the perimeter of the infected area;  inside this area the skin is scaly & flakes off, very similar although not so marked as Tropical Ringworm.  Why does Dhobie Itch persist so long compared with Tropical Ringworm?

Book C, 69

There is considerable itching during both day & night, particularly before going to sleep.

Book C, 76

It would be interesting to find out whether these diseases can be eradicated by changing the body surface conditions as for instance:

(1) wearing little & loose clothing, or the opposite

(2) Pyrexia

Book C, 89

I have not yet succeeded in infecting the rest of my body from the dhobie itch…by drying with a towel after showers.  It seems therefore that they are two distant species with specialized habitats.

Book C, 170

When the rash is disintegrating apply TR. BENZ CO: SAL AC. 10g to 1 oz.  This is not too strong.

CHRYSOPHANIC ACID is very strong & should be used with care.

Book C, 171

Rice polishings

July 4, 2009

The technology of rice polishing preceded the discovery of Thiamine with the consequence that B1 deficiency diseases such as beriberi were already widespread in the Far East before World War II.  Among the documents my father somehow managed to bury and retrieve (twice given his move to the POW camp at Krangi) was a series of public health pamphlets put out by the Straits Settlements during the late 1930s.  One of these was based on a radio talk by Ida Simmons who held the remarkable title of Public Health Matron in Singapore.  Published in 1940 it focused on the problem of beriberi and infant mortality on the island.

“In addition to hundreds who die, others drag out a miserable existence suffering from malnutrition, lack of energy, retarded growth; and are totally destitute of the joyousness of a healthy childhood.”

If more nutritional forms of rice were not available, the pamphlet went on to point out, it was essential to supplement polished white rice with foods rich in B vitamins such as milk, eggs, fruit and vegetables.

Maggots, lime, grit and dust aside, this would not be much of an option for the POWs at Changi and elsewhere. One strategy was to gather  the residues of the milling — the rice polishings — and then administer them as a dietary supplement.  None of the principal ways of doing this were particularly pleasant.  Here is how my father described it sometime in 1943.

Rice Polishings

This is the brown bran-like dust which is obtained during the polishing process of rice.  It consists of outer skins of the grain & also includes the embryo.  It contains an abundant supply of the vitamin B & is consequently used to eliminate certain deficiency diseases such as beriberi  & pellagra.

The polishings have not been subject to any subsequent treatment such as cleaning or sterilization. In fact, live beetles occur commonly in the material.  The polishings are kept in cardboard boxes.

The daily dosage is 2 heaped tablespoons & one 1/2 tablespoonful: this is to be divided into two parts and taken once in the morning & once in the afternoon.

The best ways of taking the polishings are:-

(1) Mixed with 3/4 pint of water with 1/2 dessertspoonful of sugar added

(2) Mixed with coconut milk

(3) Mixed with boiled & broken rice in morning breakfast (sugar added)

(4) Neat

The polishings must not be subjected to heat.

Book B, 80