Monday, December 19, 2005

Heads Up: Sandflies in Iraq spread disease

In addition to the combat casualties suffered during a tour of duty in Iraq last year, an N.C. National Guard brigade also had to medevac 13 men back to a U.S. hospital after volleyball games left them vulnerable to one of the Iraq war's most exotic hazards -- an outbreak of skin ulcers that can grow for years.

The victims, all men from the same small unit, contracted cutaneous leishmaniasis, characterized by weeping sores that refuse to heal, said Lt. Col Tim Mauldin, the brigade's top medical officer.

"No matter what you do, it just keeps getting bigger and bigger," he said.

Leishmaniasis is spread by the bite of tiny sandflies, which deposit microscopic parasites that cause the sores. It is endemic along the Iranian border where some of the North Carolina troops served. Another version of the disease is fatal, but the main dangers for victims of this strain are permanent scarring (the ulcers often occur on the face) and loss of motion if the sores appear over a joint.

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