Infectious Disease Alert – Veterans of Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq or Middle East, or Southeast Asia
Please share with any vet that served in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq or Middle East or Southeast Asia.
Parasites: A Leading Undiagnosed Health Problem for Vets
BY TOM BERGER
Claudia Gary’s article demonstrates that one of the major health issues affecting people who’ve served in the U.S. military is parasites, primarily because parasitic infections are so commonly misdiagnosed. This has not escaped the attention of VVA’s Veterans Health Council.
For example, strongyloidiasis, a disease that may affect several body systems, is caused by the nematode (roundworm) Strongyloides stercoralis, a soil-dwelling parasite. Strongyloidiasis is more prevalent among those who were stationed in Southeast Asia during World War II and the Vietnam War. It may be relatively common in high-risk populations and may be frequently misdiagnosed as isolated gram-negative sepsis (a potentially fatal whole body inflammation) or acute respiratory distress syndrome. The true prevalence of this disease is likely underestimated because infection is often subclinical, and an untreated infection can persist for the remainder of a patient’s life. As many as 50 percent of patients remain asymptomatic and can survive decades undiagnosed. The longest documented asymptomatic infection was more than sixty-five years.
Parasites can have a direct and profound effect on one’s emotions and intellectual capacity. They can be the direct cause of depression, irritability, emotional swings, confusion, inability to concentrate, and restlessness. They have many indirect causes as well. Insomnia and broken sleep create fatigue that, in turn, affects most things in your life and can lead to difficulties in relationships and overall quality of life. The emotional and intellectual effects of parasites on veterans can be huge. It’s important to talk with your health care provider about your military service, particularly about where and when you served. Then ask about regional parasites and whether you should be screened for them.
Tom Berger is the executive director of VVA’s Veterans Health Council.