Modern Day, News, WW1

Gas Gangrene: A WW1-Era Bug Almost Kills Man Whilst Gardening.

After catching a deadly WW1-era bug while gardening, a man had to spend four months in a hospital. 

The gas gangrene-causing bacteria had caused severe damage. Half of his back muscle had to be cut off. Moreover, doctors had to cut his legs wide open to stop the infection from spreading. 

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If left untreated, this type of infection can be fatal as it quickly destroys tissue and blood cells. 

CT Scan
A CT Scan showing the gas near the mans pelvis. The WW1 Era disease almost cost him his life.

The gruesome images of the 64-year-old’s ordeal were published in a medical journal. The doctors who reported the case suspected that the man may have contracted the infection by cutting himself with contaminated barbed wire.

The man’s identity remains undisclosed.

Gas Gangrene

Gas gangrene, also known as clostridial myonecrosis, was infamous for its high mortality rate during WWI. The bacteria affected about 1 in 20 soldiers and killed 28% of those who caught it – even if treated. Modern military medicine has virtually eliminated the risk of infection on the battlefield. However, it still occurs sporadically in civilian life.

Recently, a man was hospitalized at Vrinnevi Hospital in Norrköping due to gas gangrene. He needed six surgeries to remove the dead tissue and had an extended stay in the intensive care unit (ICU).

It is unclear how he contracted the infection. Some suggest he got it from soil that came into contact with one of his psoriatic lesions.

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The condition known as gas gangrene gets its name from the gas produced by bacteria inside the body. If left untreated, it has a near 100% mortality rate. Around 1,000 cases of gas gangrene are recorded in the US every year. Moreover, some experts estimate a similar number of cases occur in other developed countries like the UK.

Muscle Necrosis

The Swedish man recently sought medical help after experiencing unexplained pain in his left side and a fever for eight hours. According to his story published in the International Journal of Surgery Case Reports, readings taken on his initial admission showed worrying levels of temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure.

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A physical examination revealed extreme tenderness on his left side, but doctors couldn’t find signs of traumatic injury, and the man himself insisted he hadn’t suffered any.

gas gangrene
A Photo taken shortly after WW1 of a gas gangrene victim post operation.

A CT scan showed a collection of fluid and gas around his left iliopsoas muscle, which connects the lower back to the legs and hips. The man was given a range of antibiotics, and medics opted to see how his condition developed before committing to serious surgery. A second CT scan was ordered two and a half hours later.

Medics believed the man had developed necrotizing fasciitis or the ‘flesh-eating disease.’ Images showed both the gas and fluid levels inside his left flank had grown larger. His vital signs had worsened. Surgeons performed an emergency operation to access the internal muscle tissue and the pelvis, where they discovered gas bubbles in the swollen and discoloured muscle.

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The man’s condition continued to deteriorate. Eventually, doctors had to remove 50% of his psoas muscle, one of the most significant muscles between the spine and the pelvis. A Lab revealed the cause of infection – Clostridium Septicum – one of two bacteria species that can cause gas gangrene.


After the first operation, the man was sent to intensive care, where he was put on a ventilator. Medics conducted a second operation 18 hours later but found no further tissue needed to be cut away. However, they noticed that the muscle tissue in his left thigh had also grown necrotic and needed to be removed.

The doctors administered metronidazole to fight the bacteria, but his condition kept on deteriorating. 

German ww1
A Great War German hospital. Gas Gangrene was infamous during WW1 for its high mortality rate .

Medics performed multiple surgeries to remove dead tissue in order to prevent amputation of the infected limb. Rather than closing the wounds, they packed them with gauze soaked in hydrogen peroxide, which slowed the spread of infection.

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The man also suffered a cardiac arrest and an internal leak, which were attributed to the residual breakdown of internal tissue.

He spent a total of 135 days in the hospital and was eventually sent to a nursing home. The medics believed the man caught the bug while gardening, possibly through a minuscule cut on his arm or soil coming into contact with his psoriatic lesions. The patient gave consent to publish the findings.