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[casi] Attacks, suicides, Baghdad boil - time to go?

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Published on Tuesday, November 25, 2003 by the New York Daily News
Baghdad Boil Festers as New Enemy of G.I.s
by Juan Gonzalez

Iraqis call it the Baghdad Boil or Black Fever - and it's attacking American
In its most virulent form, the rare parasitic disease, known officially as
Visceral Leishmaniasis, or VL, infects the kidneys and spleen and is usually
fatal if left untreated.
A milder form leaves ugly lesions on the skin that can lead to permanent
Last month the Pentagon announced that 22 U.S. soldiers from the Middle East
have come down with the milder form of the disease during the past year - 18
of them in Iraq, mostly around Baghdad and Nassiriya in the south. The
others got sick in Afghanistan or Kuwait.
But the number infected could be much higher than military brass is
admitting, two Army medics recently returned from Iraq told the Daily News
last week.
"A lot of people are being medivacked for Leishmaniasis," said one medic, an
Army sergeant back in the states on leave who asked not to be identified.
"In briefing sessions several months ago, we were told the number of
in-country cases was almost 800," he said.
And the most dangerous time for catching the disease is during the month of
According to the second medic, who also is a sergeant, some commanders are
so strapped for manpower, they've started to resist shipping out all but the
sickest soldiers.
Pentagon officials, after revealing the first cases of the disease among
U.S. troops, have banned donations of blood by G.I.s from the Middle East
for at least a year after soldiers return home. "The issue with those who
are exposed is that there is an incubation period before any symptoms
appear," Lt. Col. Ruth Sylvester of the Armed Services Blood Program said
Any soldier who contracts the disease becomes a carrier and can no longer
donate blood.
With the mild form of the disease, multiple sores typically form on the
legs, arms or face several weeks after the victim is bitten by an infected
sand fly. Those sores can persist for years if not treated and eventually
form scabs that leave ugly scars.
Those struck by the virulent form typically experience high fever, weight
loss and an enlarged spleen and liver. Soldiers with confirmed cases are
being shipped to Walter Reed Medical Center, where they are treated for at
least three weeks with intravenous drugs.
Leishmaniasis is prevalent throughout Southwest Asia and Africa, with about
1.5 million people infected each year, but Iraq has seen increased outbreaks
of the virulent form of the disease in recent years.
In August, the World Health Organization warned of "a sharp increase of
Visceral Leishmaniasis in various parts of the country."
During the first Persian Gulf War, where far more U.S. soldiers were
deployed than in Iraq, 32 cases of Leishmaniasis were reported, 12 of them
the acute form of the disease.
But those troops spent much of their time in unpopulated areas of the desert
during the coolest part of the year, and they dedicated considerable time to
eradicating mosquitoes and flies.
In Iraq, on the other hand, the troops have spent much time in cities in
unbearable heat, amid a population that has seen basic sanitary systems
Iraq's cities have become a breeding ground for disease. It may take years
before we know the toll Leishmaniasis and other diseases have taken on U.S.
Juan Gonzalez is a Daily News columnist. Email:
 2003 Daily News, L.P.

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