When Germ Warfare Happened

Posted on June 26, 2010 

When Germ Warfare Happened

Jiang Chun Geng’s poisoned right leg, with its suppurating wounds, hangs limply over the gray wooden bench in the medical clinic here in Dachen, a village in China’s province of Zhejiang. Twice the size of his left leg, the limb is too tender to touch during my visit. Instead, Dr. Zhu Jian Jun gently dabs the putrid wounds with an alcohol-drenched swab. Jiang’s heavily lined face tightens as Zhu wraps the fiery stump with a white bandage and unhooks an intravenous antibiotic drip. Another treatment is over.

Jiang, a 70-year-old farmer, can’t remember a time when flesh-eating ulcers didn’t cover his legs. “They never go away,” he tells me. “They just get drier. Sometimes they hurt less.” He doesn’t know for sure how he got them, but his father told him that the wounds first appeared in July 1942, soon after the Japanese army passed through his village. His entire family developed the festering sores. His mother and younger brother died in unbearable pain a decade later as the untreated, mysterious infection crept up their legs.

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