Weatherford Democrat

Veterans' Corner

June 21, 2014

VETERANS' CORNER: Vets at risk from parasites in war zones

WEATHERFORD —

Parasites are unpleasant, hard to face and sometimes hard to find. Sometimes the cure is easy and complete, sometimes not. The worst outcome usually comes from misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis or no diagnosis. 

Two of the most devastating and lasting parasitic infections Vietnam veterans have suffered are those caused by mosquito-borne filarial worms and food-borne liver flukes. Lymphatic filariasis, which generally is not fatal, can be disfiguring and debilitating. Liver fluke infection can go virtually undetected for decades and then cause a body cancer, cholangiocarcinoma. Veterans who have returned from Iraq may be at risk of sand fly fever, malaria, amoebic dysentery, giardiasis and lishmaniasis. Those returning from Afghanistan are at risk of protozoan parasites as well as soil transmitted helminthes. Intestinal parasites are prevalent in Iraq.

Here is a brief catalog:

* Amebiasiis - produces amoebic dysentery. It’s mainly seen in countries with poor food and water hygiene.

* Lymphatic Filariasis - a rare parasitic infection transmitted by the bite of a mosquito.

* Ascariasis - A very large round worm carried into the GI tract. It is transmitted from person to person.   

* Schistosomiasis - waterborne parasitic infection that can lead to urinary tract problems. It is found in Iraq but infection is thought to be infrequent. 

* Leishmaniasis - transmitted by the bite of a sand fly. A particular problem for veterans of wars in the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan.

* Helminthes - tapeworms

Parasites can have a direct and profound effect on one’s emotions and intellectual capacity. They can be the direct cause of depression, irritability, emotional swings, confusion, inability to concentrate and restlessness. They have many indirect causes as well. Insomnia and broken sleep create fatigue that, in turn, affects most things in life and lead to difficulties in relationships and overall quality of life.

It is important to talk to a doctor about military service, particularly about where and when served. It’s also important to find out whether these parasites left the war zone with you. If service history shows a risk factor, ask for a test and don’t take no for an answer. The tests don’t hurt.

Speak to you again next week.

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