The Strange Ordeal of the S. S. Normandier ...Medical mystery?

The thread title references a non-fiction book:

It is an account of a radioman’s time abord a WW1 era merchant ship.

At one point the crew contracts “Blackwater fever”. The symptoms are black urine, high fever, and deep comas simulating death. Most of the crew end up recovering, and it is a bit chilling that one (two? been 10+ years since I read it) are buried at sea before they realize that most of the patients are not quite dead.

IIRC the entire crew is eventually afflicted, so it must have been very contagious. They picked it up in a port, (North Africa?)and I think they may have been warned off by a harbor pilot before any actually went ashore.

I also seem to recall that some of the crew had milder relapses of the infection for some months after initial recovery.

Do any of our doper docs want to hazard a guess as to what disease this might have been?

I’ll pull out the book tonight and see if I can add any info, or correct errors in my memory.

I’m not a doctor but I think blackwater fever is a name for malaria that affects the kidneys, hence black urine. That would certainly fit with relapses months later, which I believe is characteristic of malaria.

Blackwater fever is a well-known complication of malaria (possibly consequent to treatment with quinine); while I haven’t heard of the “deep comas simulating death,” it certainly can lead to coma. It’s not contagious though, as it’s spread by mosquitoes.

See this post over in the original thread.

Briefly: I speculate, perhaps it’s Encephalitis lethargica, a.k.a. von Economo disease after the neurologist who studied it. There’s also a link to Wikipedia article there.