Some in 296th hit by ‘Baghdad Boil’

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Approximately 80 percent of the soldiers with the Army Reserve’s296th Transportation Company in Brookhaven are infected with aparasitic disease contracted while serving in Iraq, according tothe company commander.

“Many of my soldiers, including myself, have it,” said Maj.Howard Taylor. “The signs are just beginning to show now. I’ve gotsome soldiers with bites all over their bodies.”

Leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease spread by the bite ofinfected sand flies, according to the Centers for Disease Control(CDC) in Atlanta, and it can take weeks or even months for thefirst sores to begin to develop.

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People who have cutaneous leishmaniasis, the type most typicallyfound throughout the Middle East, have one or more sores on theirskin. The sores can change in size and appearance over time, butoften end up resembling a volcano, with a raised edge and centralcrater. Some sores are covered by a scab, but others are not, andthe sores can be painful or painless.

Soldiers refer to the disease as the “Baghdad Boil.”

The disease is serious, but not generally life-threatening. Thesores will heal on their own, but it can take months or even years.Disfiguring scars result if untreated.

“They did say if we didn’t get any help for it there will besome deformities,” Taylor said.

Vaccines and drugs for preventing infections are not currentlyavailable, but according to Virginia Stephanakis, a spokespersonfor the Army Surgeon General’s Office, the illness istreatable.

“We do know how to treat it,” she said. “The cutaneous kind ispretty easily treated.”

Taylor said he was bit several times, but the most seriousinfection seems to be around his ankle, where it is turningblack.

“It’s going to leave a scar, and it’s spreading up to my kneenow,” he said.

The disease cannot be spread from person to person.Leishmaniasis is spread naturally only when sand flies bite aninfected animal, such as a rodent or dog, or person. It can also bespread, however, through blood transfusions or infectedneedles.

The 296th contracted the disease while in a base camp south ofBaghdad, Taylor said.

“We were in an affected area,” he said. “(Command) put(warnings) out in a briefing to protect yourself, but by that timewe had all already been bit.”

Stephanakis said the 296th was in Iraq during the peak of thesand fly season, which is typically in late summer and early fall,and some locations are more prevalent for leishmaniasis thanothers.

“There are areas where a higher percentage of sand flies areinfected than others,” she said. “I’m not sure about thatparticular area.”

Further complicating the situation for the 296th, Taylor said,was that few civilian doctors are familiar with the disease, andthe only hospital he knew to be treating it is Walter Reed ArmyMedical Center in Washington.

Maj. Trey Cate, a spokesman for the 101st Airborne Division,told the Associated Press last week that the division sent 20soldiers to Walter Reed for treatment and testing.

“We have evacuated them … (so they) can be treated by theexperts and studied in ways that are impossible in the field,” hesaid.

Walter Reed is the only military hospital currently treating thedisease, but the CDC probably has some civilian hospitalsauthorized to treat it also, Stephanakis said. Treatment is limitedbecause the drug used, Pentostam, has not approved by the FederalDrug Administration and must administered by a physician approvedby them so they can monitor the results.

At Walter Reed, she said, they require the soldier to remain inthe hospital under observation during the two week period of theantibiotic treatment.

Taylor said he hopes he can begin sending soldiers to WalterReed soon for treatment. The 296th may be redeployed to Iraq inMarch for up to two years.

“I’m hearing talk and rumors, but I haven’t heard anythingconcrete yet,” he said.

More than 90 percent of the world’s cases of cutaneousleishmaniasis are in Afghanistan, Algeria, Brazil, Iran, Iraq,Peru, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. The number of new cases of cutaneousleishmaniasis each year in the world is thought to be about 1.5million, according to the CDC.