3rd MAW employs preventative medicine in Iraq

25 Sep 2004 | Cpl. Paul Leicht

While Marines in Iraq are fighting a battle for freedom, they wage another battle with the environment every minute of every day.

Field insects and pests, such as mosquitoes, biting flies, fleas and ticks, can often carry diseases that are very dangerous to humans. For Marines, prevention techniques used before an insect bite is part of safe operations in the field.

In a foreign environment such as Iraq, treatment for clothing is taking on a new role in prevention techniques.

"We are spraying (camouflage utilities) with permethrin spray as part of our preventative medicine program," said Lt. j. g. Johnfritz E. Antoine, environmental health officer, Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 3, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. "Permethrin clothing applications were developed in cooperation with government agencies and for use by the military.
The spray is designed to protect humans from insect-borne diseases spread by bug bites," he explained.

Permethrin, an odorless repellent, was originally developed from natural-occurring pyrethrin in flowers, said Antoine, a native of New York, who before joining the Navy worked as a health inspector for the New York City's Office of Environmental Health.

"In southern Iraq we are concerned with mosquitoes and malaria and sand flies carrying leishmaniasis," said Cmdr. Cynthia L. Heins, wing surgeon, MWHS-3.

Aboard the air base here, Heins said she is particularly concerned with the sand flies because two percent of them carry the disease. It takes about four months after a bite-long after you have forgotten about it-for any symptoms to appear.

"Some symptoms people should look out for include nausea, bloated stomach, skin lesions or blistering sores," she mentioned. "Leishmaniasis is a disease of concern for (3rd MAW personnel) because it has the potential to spread and then we would have a real health problem on our hands that would adversely affect our operations.

"In addition to treating clothing and gear, we have trucks that spray every night to help kill the sand flies carrying leishmaniasis," added Heins.

With the permethrin spray, the threat posed by insects is greatly reduced with no affect to clothing.

"The sprays are specially formulated to not stain or damage clothing or gear," said Antoine. "After a few hours of drying time, one application lasts about six weeks or so because the Permethrin chemically bonds with the fabric fibers as part of the drying process. It keeps working to protect you even after the clothes have been washed."

After spraying all exterior clothing surfaces and gear, and a few hours of drying time, the application is complete.

In addition to permethrin spray, Antoine said there are other measures one can take to help protect against these insects and their diseases.

"A combination of permethrin spray and wearing uniforms with long sleeves gives you the best total protection," explained Antoine. "We are also conducting other measures to combat the spread of disease out here, like making sure we reduce the amount of standing water even out here in the desert.
"When troops get sick, combat readiness suffers and goes down so we have to do whatever we can to make sure Marines and Sailors stay in the fight," he concluded.