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Military Investigates Malaria Outbreak Among Liberia Quick Reaction Force Members

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 3, 2003 – Military health officials want to know why almost a third of the members of a U.S. quick-reaction force that recently served in Liberia came down with malaria.

An amphibious U.S. task force -- composed primarily of Marines -- was dispatched to the West African nation in early August to help establish peace so humanitarian aid could be distributed to a fearful populace wracked by the effects of civil war. Mission accomplished, the American task force left for home Oct. 1.

About 80 members of the approximately 200-strong U.S. contingent that served ashore at various times during the Liberian peacekeeping mission developed malaria, noted Dr. Michael E. Kilpatrick, the Defense Department's deputy director of deployment health support, in an interview with American Forces Radio and Television Service.

The mystery, Kilpatrick said, is that U.S. personnel who'd contracted the disease -- a potentially fatal, mosquito-borne malady common in tropical climates -- had been provided anti-malarial drugs.

"Very quickly, in a matter of a few weeks, we started to see cases of malaria in those individuals we thought were adequately protected," Kilpatrick recalled.

Initially, 33 persons came down with malaria in Liberia and were evacuated for treatment, Kilpatrick said. Two were taken to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, he noted, while the others were sent to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Now, however, the total is 80 cases among the people who went ashore, the doctor pointed out.

Kilpatrick said DoD military health investigators are trying to pin down the cause or causes of the outbreak. Some may have developed malaria from "not taking the prophylactic medication correctly or not having adequate levels (of medication) in the blood, even though it was taken correctly," the doctor theorized.

Other possible causes, Kilpatrick continued, could involve the improper use or failure to use available insect repellents, treated uniforms, or mosquito netting. He added it's possible this specific strain of malaria is resistant to the preventive medication that was used.

All of the peacekeeping force members infected with malaria in Liberia have been successfully treated and are "doing well," Kilpatrick reported.

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