December 3, 2004
At least 102 soldiers wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq have brought back with them a bacterial infection (Acinetobacter baumannii) that is resistant to most antibiotic drugs available. Most of the cases were discovered at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany or Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., the two places were seriously wounded troops are sent to after they have been stabilized in Afghanistan or Iraq. This particular bug is actually quite common, and it is believed that the troops overseas got infected because of they were not cleaned up quickly enough in a very dirty and dusty environment.
Exotic bacterial infections in troops operating in unfamiliar locations is nothing new. Thirty years ago, the Department of Defense did a medical study of the Persian Gulf area, as part of the work to form a Rapid Reaction Force for possible intervention in the region. In addition to a large number of known diseases and potentially dangerous bacteria, there appeared to be a lot of unknown ailments out there. Local medical personnel were treating a lot of diseases, unknown outside the Persian Gulf area, with whatever medicines they could get their hands on. Older American military personnel recalled a similar situation when U.S. troops went into North Africa and the Pacific during World War II. While many of these local diseases are of academic interest back in the United States, little is done to develop cures or preventive measures. The treatments developed during war time are filed away. Many have since been hauled out of storage, as some American troops served in the Persian Gulf during World War II. Even though many have been there since 1991, new ailments are constantly being discovered. The Persian Gulf area is not only rich in oil, but in disease as well.