Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Democracy Isn't All We're Spreading 

From Zemblan patriot J.D., another piece of news that's sure to boost those sagging enlistment numbers:
Military doctors are fighting to contain an outbreak of a potentially deadly drug-resistant bacteria that apparently originated in the Iraqi soil. So far at least 280 people, mostly soldiers returning from the battlefield, have been infected, a number of whom contracted the illness while in U.S. military hospitals.

Most of the victims are relatively young troops who were injured by the land mines, mortars and suicide bombs that have permeated the Iraq conflict. No active-duty soldiers have died from the infections, but five extremely sick patients who were in the same hospitals as the injured soldiers have died after being infected with the bacteria, Acinetobacter baumannii . . . .

Acinetobacter was the second most prevalent infection for soldiers in Vietnam, but the military did not expect to see it as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Researchers are still working to understand
where it came from and how patients were infected.

Doctors worry not only about soldiers who are already infected but also those who are carrying Acinetobacter on their skin even though they themselves are not infected. Lt. Cmdr. Kyle Petersen, an infectious disease specialist at National Naval Medical Center (NNMC) in Bethesda, Md.,says his hospital treated 396 patients who had been wounded in Iraq between May 2003 and February 2005. About 10% were infected and another 20% were found to have Acinetobacter bacteria on their skin but were not infected. The rate of appearance of the bacteria has "been flat-out steady," says Petersen.

Preventing the bacteria's spread has required doctors to take extreme care, putting all patients who are returning from the theater of war into isolation. "It's one of those pathogens that once it gets into a population and a chain of care, it can set up shop. Trying to contain the spread of this infection to other people is very difficult," says Andrew Shorr, a doctor who recently left Walter Reed for Washington Hospital Center. "What has happened over the past 18 months is every patient who shows up, we assume they're positive until they are demonstrated negative."
UPDATE (via our stouthearted colleagues at Cursor): More from Medicine.net. "If US military hospitals are having difficulty treating it, we cannot begin to imagine the situation for civilians injured and hospitalized in Iraq or Afghanistan."

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