Honoring the Health Sacrifices of Our Veterans

VETERANS-DAY-poster-2012On Veterans Day, America pauses to honor every service member who has ever worn one of our Nation’s uniforms. Each time our country has come under attack, they have risen in her defense. Each time our freedoms have come under assault, they have responded with resolve. Through the generations, their courage and sacrifice have allowed our Republic to flourish. And today, a Nation acknowledges its profound debt of gratitude to the patriots who have kept it whole.

As we pay tribute to our veterans, we are mindful that no ceremony or parade can fully repay that debt. We remember that our obligations endure long after the battle ends, and we make it our mission to give them the respect and care they have earned. “

These two paragraphs are taken directly from the 2013 Veterans Day Presidential Proclamation.

But getting Veterans the care they deserve is not always easy.  The wounds of war can go far beyond what meets the eye. From mental health issues to pain and illness that persist long after they’ve left the battlefield, veterans face a multitude of health troubles either unique to their service or more frequent among them than the general population.

Folks returning from combat have a constellation of health concerns, including physical issues, psychological issues and psychosocial issues concerning things like work and family,” said Dr. Stephen Hunt, national director of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Post Deployment Integrative Care Initiative.

Some of the most common physical complaints of returning soldiers cannot be classified into a single disorder. They include nonspecific symptoms such as fatigue, pain and cognitive disturbances such as memory and concentration problems.

Here are seven of the most commonly seen health conditions confronting veterans:

vetsparade-79576Musculoskeletal injuries and pain

Just over half of all veterans’ post-deployment health visits address lingering pain in their backs, necks, knees or shoulders.  According to a study in the Journal of Pain, about 100,000 veterans of the Gulf War nearly 20 years ago have reported chronic muscle pain.

Mental health issues

PTSDWhile post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among soldiers has been well publicized, other mental woes can also result from the trauma of war. A study in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry [now JAMA Psychiatry] found that one in 10 Iraq war vets develop serious mental problems, including violent behavior, depression and alcohol abuse. The study found that PTSD or depression seriously impaired daily functioning in 8.5 – 14% of these vets.  Disabling on its own, PTSD is also linked to the development of physical illnesses for veterans as years pass. Researchers from Walter Reed Army Medical Center reported that 54% of veterans with PTSD also had sleep apnea, compared with 20%of PTSD patients in the general population. PTSD in vets is also associated with a greater risk of developing dementia.

Chemical exposure

syria1Research by the American Heart Association found that exposure to nerve agents such as sarin – which can trigger convulsions and death on the battlefield – may cause long-term heart damage in Gulf War veterans. The damage can include an enlarged left ventricle, heart rhythm abnormalities or a reduction in the pumping strength of the heart.

Infectious diseases

Although all military personnel are given routine vaccinations before deployment, veterans suffer disproportionately from certain infections that civilians almost never experience.  They include bacterial infections such as brucellosis, which may persist for years; campylobacter jejuni, which causes abdominal pain, fever and diarrhea; and Coxiella burnetii, which in chronic cases can inflame the heart.

Leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease caused by the bite of a sand fly native to the Middle East, is a particularly brutal condition veterans experience. Those infected suffer weight loss, fevers, headaches, muscle pain and weakness, anemia, and enlargement of the spleen and liver. It can be fatal if untreated, according to the VA..

army-mil-2007-06-28-113715Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

TBI, often brought on by a blow or jolt to the head, disrupts brain function and has been called the signature wound of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the National Academy of Sciences. Blast exposures and other combat-related activities put service members at greater risk for sustaining a TBI compared to their civilian counterparts, according to the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center.

Common effects of TBIs include cognitive issues such as shorter attention span, language disabilities, and an inability to process information. Vets can also suffer from lack of motivation, irritability, anxiety and depression, headaches, memory loss and PTSD.

However, you choose to mark Veteran’s Day 2013, please remember the sacrifices made by all of our vets and be mindful of the long-term health problems they face. Ladies and Gentleman of the military, we thank you for your service.

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A Fishy Tale of Lumps and Bumps

boa constrictorWhen you think about potentially dangerous pets,  which animals spring to mind? Alligators? Boa Constrictors? Any of the “big cats”? Pit Bulls? Goldfish?

Goldfish? Really?!?  Well, according to a new study from Henry Ford hospital, fish may not be quite as benign as they seem. To be fair, it’s not the fish killer goldfishthemselves, but the water they swim in that may be harmful to health.

Researchers have shown that contaminated water in home aquariums can lead to a skin infection known as Mycobacterium marinum. The condition is characterized by reddish skin lesions or bumps on the hands or arms.

It’s difficult to diagnose and treat because skin lesions don’t appear for two to four weeks after contact with the bacteria, leading to delayed treatment and unnecessary and ineffective use of antifungal and antibacterial agents.

Complicating matters further is that patients fail to remember or mention the source of the exposure, which is often traced to them cleaning their aquarium. Infection results when bacteria in the non-chlorinated water attacks an open skin wound on the arm or hand.

mycobacterium marinumPeople just don’t know or think about their fish tank harboring this bacterial organism,” says George Alangaden, M.D., a Henry Ford Infectious Diseases physician and the study’s lead author.

And unless they’re directly questioned about it by their physician, who may or may not have adequate knowledge of Mycobacterium marinum and its prolonged incubation period, appropriate treatment often gets delayed.”

During the study, conducted between January 2003 and March 2013, researchers identified five patients ages 43 to 72 treated at Henry Ford for Mycobacterium marinum. Skin biopsies performed on all five patients confirmed the infection.

The incubation period before skin lesions appeared ranged from 11 to 56 days. While all five patients responded effectively to antibiotic treatment, it took on average a staggering 161 days from the time of initial presentation to time of treatment.

“Mycobacterium marinum is not a life-threatening illness, but it remains an unrecognized cause of skin infection,” says Dr. Alangaden. “To accelerate diagnosis and treatment, physicians are encouraged to ask detailed questions about the patient’s history, especially questions about potential exposure to aquariums.”

cleaning aquarium Or better still, may we suggest you wear gloves when cleaning out the tank!

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Fighting flu in just two hours

As we approach midsummer, while most of us are enjoying days at the pool or beach and long evenings of grilling out, a few people have already begun the countdown to winter frosts and flu season.

For those in the latter group, SRxA’s Word on Health brings you good news!

Researchers from San Diego State University and Nebraska Medical Center have developed a synthetic protein known as EP67 that can fight off flu, in just two hours.

Until recently, EP67 had been used as an adjuvant for vaccines. When added to a vaccine, adjuvants help to activate the immune system. Which led scientists to wonder what effect the synthetic protein might have on its own?

Dr. Joy Phillips, lead author, said: “The flu virus is very sneaky and actively keeps the immune system from detecting it for a few days until you are getting symptoms. Our research showed that  introducing EP67 into the body within 24 hours of exposure to the flu virus caused the immune system to react almost immediately to the threat, well before your body normally would.”

EP67 is useful as a weapon against flu because it works on the immune system rather than the virus.  So it doesn’t matter which flu strain a patient becomes infected with.  If a new strain of flu or some other infectious disease appears, such as occurred with SARA and H1N1, EP67 could be useful as a tool even before the pathogen itself has been identified.

And even though this study concentrated on the benefits of EP67 for flu, researchers are hopeful that it might also be useful for combating other respiratory diseases and fungal infections.

Current tests are being done on laboratory animals, mainly mice, by infecting them with an influenza virus and then administering EP67 within 24 hours. They found that the treated mice did not get sick, while the untreated ones did.  Most mice infected with flu will lose approximately 20% of their body weight – this was the case with the untreated mice. The mice given EP67 lost just an average of 6%. Some mice were even given a lethal dose of flu virus, and then administered EP67 – none of them died.

All of this sounds so promising future studies are already planned to look at EP67’s effect on other pathogens and its functions within different types of body cells.

With this type of good news on the way, maybe we can all stop worrying about the winter and get back to enjoying summer before it’s gone!