William Keen claims in his Treatment of war wounds (written at the end of WW1) that the soil of France, since it was inhabited and cultured since antiquity, was extraordinarily infected with bacteria that if entering the wound would cause tetanus, (gas) gangrene and other problems.

Does historical precedent in other wars and other theaters of WW1 confirm this? Does wounding in old farmlands and centers of civilization make infection more likely than being wounded in the "wild" were humans have not previously lived?

  • Fields that recently have had manure applied as a fertilizer would have a higher bacteria count, but that should normalize within a short time (months? weeks?), especially if the fields are worked and have growing crops. The wikipedia article on Tetanus says the bacterium is "commonly found in soil, saliva, dust, and manure", but does not compare the sources. In the "wild," animal feces would be mixed with leaf litter to create humus, but many manures include bedding along with excrement, so the differences could be volume applied and species origins.
    – bgwiehle
    Apr 5 '20 at 12:28
  • This does not answer your question but I found it quite interesting, allthatsinteresting.com/angels-glow , is an article about how some types of bacteria (Photorhabdus luminescens) were stirred up in the dirt after the Battle of Shiloh. This bacteria was actually beneficial to the soliders and possibly saved some of their lives. These "good" types of bacteria prefer wet and cold environments, so maybe there are more common in the rural areas rather than the urban areas.
    – ed.hank
    Apr 5 '20 at 16:04
  • I think a technical answer to the question would best be found on another site (medical science?) but I suspect this sentence reflects a particular British ideology towards the Continent rather than actual science.
    – antlersoft
    Apr 5 '20 at 16:24
  • I was told that people get tetanus from farmland that has been out of use for a long time.
    – John Dee
    Apr 20 '20 at 1:54

Gas gangrene is caused by Clostridium perfringens, which is more common in agricultural lands enriched by manure.

ref. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2444017

Tetanus similarly caused by Clostridium tetani, with horse manure particularly blamed.

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