Afghanistan Vets' Silent Killer: Fungus in Soil

It gets into their bodies in IED blasts
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 15, 2012 3:23 PM CST
US military doctors treat a wounded Afghan civilian in a hospital at Forward Operating Base Edi in Helmand Province in this Sept 8, 2011 file photo.   (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

(Newser) – Doctors are struggling to deal with a fungal infection that's complicating the recovery of some of the most severely wounded US veterans. The fungus is thought to exist in the Afghan soil and to infect troops when they're wounded by IEDs, USA Today explains. Often, such explosions result in amputations, but because the fungus is undetectable at first, doctors tend to stop short of removing infected—but seemingly healthy—bits of flesh and bone.

As the fungus does its work, the wounded veterans must often return to the surgeon's table to have more of their limb removed. "Even for somebody that's very experienced, it's hard to tell what's dead and what's alive," one military trauma expert says. So far the organism has infected about 100 troops, killing six of them. New guidelines published this month urge combat doctors to soak wounds in a World War I-era diluted bleach product called Dakins to kill potential fungus. (Read more US military stories.)

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