Combating a little-known enemy

7 May 2004 | Lance Cpl. J.L. Bush

Marines and sailors here are getting ready to combat a little-known and potentially dangerous enemy indigenous to this region.

The bite of an Iraqi sand fly can debilitate a Marine, sailor or a whole unit, but with proper protection the parasitic infection it causes, leishmaniasis, can be prevented, according to Petty Officer 1st Class David A. Carroll, the preventive medicine chief with I Marine Expeditionary Force.

I Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group’s preventive medicine department has been spraying uniforms, buildings and certain open areas around the base with pesticides like permethrin, Scurg and Dmand.

Even though they are commonly-used pesticides, certain precautionary measures are taken to limit the exposure to personnel-- such as limiting spraying from 2 a.m. and 4 a.m., according to Carroll.

“There are three types of prevention: DEET for skin, having uniforms sprayed and proper education,” said Chief Petty Officer Joseph Campbell, a Denham Springs, La., native, and a corpsman with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 74, as he was having his uniforms sprayed with permethrin.

The proper prevention of leishmaniasis is vital since there is no cure, and it is common for the disease to take three to six months before symptoms appear.

Leishmaniasis manifests in two ways, the most common being cutaneous, or skin related, and visceral or internal. The latter can be deadly.

“Visceral leishmaniasis is extremely rare, but left   untreated it can be potentially fatal,” said Lt. Cmdr. John Benjamin, a Baltimore, Md., native, and I MEF Group Aid Station medical officer. “The symptoms are reoccurring fever, unexplained weight loss and general flu-like symptoms that won’t go away. The cutaneous form is characterized by a sore or lesion that will not heal and won’t respond to antibiotics or normal treatment.”

Not every sand fly carries the infection but enough do to make it a common disease in this region.

“Here in Iraq, leishmaniasis is treated as a childhood disease because almost every child gets it,” said Carroll.

The sand fly bites are common during the summer months -- making April through November the prime time for cases, said Carroll.

Most uniforms were sprayed before leaving Camp Pendleton to aid in the prevention of sand fly bites and more have been treated in Iraq.

“We have sprayed close to 2,000 uniforms for the Marines, Army and Seabees since we have been in theater,” said Benjamin.

Additional treatment is required for areas not covered by the uniform.

“The hands and face are the only areas susceptible to infection when treated uniforms are properly worn,” said Carroll. “To protect uncovered areas DEET (lotion) should be used, but only if the product has a 30 percent concentration, which most store-bought products do not.”

If properly treated, some sores may go away, but if left unattended the sore will remain for a long time and it will cause permanent scarring.

“Nothing will protect 100 percent but if you spray,

“Use DEET and wear your uniform properly, then the likelihood of being infected is almost zero,” said Chief Petty Officer Chris W. Thorne, the I MEF medical plans chief and a Phoenix native.