Dr. Michelle Barron, medical director of infection prevention and control at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital, received an unusual call last month from the microbiology lab: confirmation of the third case this year of trench fever, a rare condition transmitted by body lice that plagued soldiers during World War I.
“Two is always an outbreak, and then when we found a third — OK, we clearly have something going on,” Barron recalled thinking.
Barron, who said she’d never before seen a case in her 20 years here, contacted state public health officials, who issued an advisory Thursday and said a fourth person with a suspected case had been identified. They asked physicians to be on the lookout for additional cases.
Trench fever is characterized by relapsing fever, bone pain (particularly in the shins), headache, nausea, vomiting and malaise. Some of those infected can develop skin lesions or a life-threatening infection of their heart valves.
Trench fever is most commonly diagnosed among people experiencing homelessness or living in conditions where good hygiene is difficult. Those with compromised immune systems are particularly at risk.