By Ms. Elyssa Vondra (Fort Jackson)September 12, 2018
With an uptick in Lyme Disease cases nationwide, both national and local medical professionals are speaking out on the need to prevent vector-borne diseases. Just a few steps is all it takes to avoid or treat these illnesses.
Vector-borne diseases are ailments carried and transmitted by vectors, such as mosquitoes, ticks and fleas.
"These vectors have the ability to carry and spread pathogens such as viruses, bacteria and protozoa, which can be transferred from one host (carrier) to another," said Cpt. Dixon Irizarry of the Moncrief Army Health Clinic's Department of Preventive Medicine, Environmental Health Section.
These diseases pose a risk to the Army's readiness.
Their rise in the United States can be attributed to increased international engagement with foreign countries -- including surging trade and travel, said Lt. Col. Matthew Chambers, Fort Jackson's chief of preventative medicine.
"That's how Zika got here," Chambers said. "We're flying more … (ecotourists and other travelers) are bringing (diseases) home sometimes." Malaria and Yellow Fever are two examples.
Dengue Fever has also reemerged in southern states after a long absence. Infected mosquitos have recently been reintroduced to the environment, Chambers said.
West Nile virus, Zika virus and Lyme Disease are some vector-borne diseases to watch out for here in South Carolina because of a few "nasty bugs" that live here, he added. Even so, most Soldiers probably don't have to worry much about these diseases unless deployed overseas, he said.
The risk can be mitigated with proper precaution.
"There's no need to panic about it," Chambers said.
Using insect repellant is a simple, effective preventative. Leaders in the Army "enforce the use of the Department of Defense Insect Repellent system, the proper wear of the field uniform." They also "treat all uniforms with permethrin against disease pathogens," said Sgt. Brianna Scott of the Moncrief Army Health Clinic's Department of Preventive Medicine, Environmental Health Section. "All trainees received a medical threat briefing, personal hygiene and field sanitation trainings for prevention techniques against these diseases."
If ill, going to the doctor and giving a complete history is the best bet to feel well soon. Many of the diseases can be treated quickly and effectively with drugs such as doxycycline, an antibiotic that prevents and treats infection. Lyme disease, for instance, is "very treatable" if diagnosed early and countered with antibiotics, Chambers said.
The issue is when patients "blow off a good story," he added. Telling the doctor everything, especially detailed information about recent trips out of the country, is pivotal to being diagnosed correctly. Otherwise a case of malaria could be mistaken for the flu, for example. The symptoms are largely similar and without background, the doctor has no reason to suspect such an atypical disease.
"Tell a good story to the doctor," Chambers advised. If a rash appears -- a sign of Lyme Disease -- it should be presented during the visit.
If traveling overseas, Chambers recommends checking out the travel medical clinics for vector-borne disease-related prevention and care.
Vector-borne diseases haven't necessarily been a threat to Fort Jackson, but without proper prevention, they pose risk to the Army's mission.
In a recent ALARACT message the Army reinforced the importance of preventing the diseases is classified as "vital to sustaining readiness and combat power."
In 2017, there were 137 reported cases of vector-borne diseases in active duty Soldiers, it reported. A surge in cases has been documented in recent decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control. "This trend is expected to continue into the forseeable future," D.C. representatives said.
Tick-borne diseases, including Lyme Disease, are of the greatest threat. Eighty six of the 137 cases of vector-borne diseases in active duty Soldiers in 2017 were Lyme Disease.
Soldiers face "prolonged exposures" to tick habitat while undergoing field training and during off-duty hours, making these diseases of the highest concern, the release continued.
Still, the threat is far lesser here in the United States than in many other, less developed countries, Chambers said.
"Generally, military operations are challenged in countries with limited resources to combat infectious diseases," Scott said. "On military bases, there are Pest Control Services ... and PM services to maintain surveillance with the potential vectors endemic to the areas."