Attrition: Magic Powder and The Gauze of Life

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June 17,2008: Three years ago, the U.S. military received their first clotting bandage (to stop heavy bleeding). This was amajor medical advance to come out of the war effort. But, competition being what it is, there are now three such clotting products, all operating a little differently.


The most popular bandage was the Chitosan Hemostatic Dressing (more commonly called HemCon), which was made by taking a freeze dried substance, that causes clotting of blood, and incorporating it into what otherwise looks like a typical battlefield bandage. But these dressings greatly reduced bleeding (which is the most common cause of death among wounded American troops.) This device was a major breakthrough in bandage technology. Soon, troops didn't go out into bandit country without at least one per man, and more for medical personnel.

Over 95 percent of the time, the HemCon bandages stop bleeding, especially in areas where a tourniquet could not be applied. Now there are two new products, WoundStat (a granular substance that is poured into a wound) and QuikClot (a gauze bandage similar to HemCon, that was actually available in 2003, but had some problems). While medics, and troops, prefer the bandage type device, there are situations where the fine granular substance (WoundStat) is a better solution (especially in the hands of a medic). All three are now available for use.

In the past, troops would often die from loss of blood before a surgeon could get in there to stop the bleeding. In the first two years of use, over 250,000 HemCon bandages were obtained for military needs. This was to make sure everyone in a combat zone had one at all times. While there are not a lot of casualties in base areas, the occasional rocket or mortar shell is likely to cause the kinds of wounds where HemCon can be a lifesaver. So it was a morale boost if everyone could carry a HemCon around (a small first aid kit is a standard part of combat equipment).

These clotting devices are also popular with civilian emergency medical services, and the manufacturers are still trying to catch up with worldwide demand.

 


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