Report on Infectious Deployment Diseases Released
By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 16, 2006 The latest in a series of congressionally mandated reports on the long-term health effects of troop deployments to Southwest Asia from the 1991 Gulf War to present was released today.
The new study, “Gulf War and Health: Volume 5, Infectious Diseases,” is the fifth in the series, and focuses on infectious diseases by identifying nine diseases and 34 different long-term health effects that might appear weeks to years after initial infection.
“I think that whenever we deploy people anywhere in the world, including during the time of the Gulf War, we are very focused on what are the infectious disease threats that are endemic or in that area,” Dr. Michael Kilpatrick, deputy director of the Defense Department’s Force Health Protection and Readiness Programs, told the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service here today. “We want to know what they are and how do we protect people against them. And if they become ill, how do we diagnose them, and then how do we treat them?”
In 1998, Congress mandated that the Department of Veterans Affairs use a specific procedure to determine the illnesses that warrant a presumption of connection to service in the 1991 Gulf War. This mandate required VA to contract with the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine to “conduct a comprehensive review and evaluation of the available scientific and medical information regarding the health status of Gulf War veterans.”
“We are not aware of Gulf War veterans with these long-term health effects,” Kilpatrick said. “During the Gulf War we really did a great job on monitoring health of individuals.”
In January 2005, IOM appointed a committee of national experts to review and evaluate the medical literature on the acute symptoms and long-term adverse effects of infections U.S. servicemembers might have contracted in southwest or south-central Asia. This report covers infections known to occur in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and most of the countries along their borders, DoD officials said.
The new report looks at nine diseases commonly found in that area. The nine diseases examined were bacterial diarrheas caused by campylobacter, salmonella or shigella, brucellosis, leishmaniasis, malaria, Q fever, tuberculosis, and West Nile fever.
“For Gulf War veterans, we know that a number had these kinds of diseases,” Kilpatrick said. “The numbers are very small, fortunately. For today’s deployment, the numbers continue to be very small.”
Symptoms for the nine diseases range from diarrhea to more serious symptoms.
“The acute infection is very obvious,” Kilpatrick said. “You have fever and chills, you don’t feel well, you’re very tired. Generally, people have those for a week or more. For the ones that cause diarrhea, that’s very clear.”
These diseases can have long-term negative health effects, but if diagnosed early they can easily be treated.
“I think as we take a look at long-term health effects, the numbers of people are small, but it’s important they understand that looking at the medical literature of the IOM report … we recognize there are long-term health effects,” he said. “If you have those, the VA can assume it is due to your service and infection acquired while you were deployed.”
IOM did not look at specific veterans or studies of veterans for this report. If veterans think they have symptoms, they should seek medical care, he said. “If that individual is still eligible for care within the Department of Defense, they come to us,” he said. “If they are not eligible for care in the Department of Defense, then they should go to the Department of Veterans Affairs.”
The morbidity rate from disease is the lowest in history, mainly because of better medical and preventive measures, and through education. It is vital to teach troops ways to prevent insect bites and how to keep food and water parasite-free, he said. “I think education of our troops about what we know is out there … and then the preparation we do about telling them about using permethrin and DEET (insect repellants) to avoid vectors.”
As the U.S. military looks at deployment health problems officials are continuing to learn medical lessons on how to better protect people in the future, he said. “For those that have been infected today, we want to continue to follow their health over time to make sure they remain healthy after treatment,” he said.