Bacteria, Radiation and Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

When my son deployed to Iraq in 2007, there were many things I wanted to say but didn’t have time.  I used Motomail to accomplish much of this conversation over the next seven months (at times writing letters almost daily).  One such letter must have been puzzling to him and I have not yet discussed it to see if he recalls the contents.  I will do this soon.  Maybe.

I had known for some time that the bacteria to which he would be exposed if wounded were somewhat different than any to which he had previously been exposed, and my counsel in this particular letter went something like the following: “If you become wounded – especially on your extremities but also even on your whole body – and a doctor begins to discuss rapidly propagating infection, or amputation of limbs, you need immediately to request that he administer 50 Rads of gamma or x-ray radiation to the affected area.  If the infection doesn’t begin to retreat within 12 hours, request another 50 Rads.  If the doctor doesn’t understand or wants to talk about this, have him call me.  You know how to reach me at any hour, night or day.”

Strange?  Why would I have so advised my son in a war zone?  To begin with, a report on bacteria in Iraq (and elsewhere) was recently published that illuminates some of these issues.

“It’s why I lost my leg, so it sucks.”

The assessment, from a 22-year-old Marine toughing out physical therapy on two prosthetic limbs, is laconic, matter-of-fact. Sgt. David Emery lost one leg in February 2007 when a suicide bomber assaulted the checkpoint near Haditha, Iraq, where he and fellow Marines stood guard. Military surgeons were forced to remove his remaining leg when it became infected with acinetobacter baumannii-a strain of highly resistant bacteria that since U.S. forces began fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan has threatened the lives, limbs, and organs of hundreds wounded in combat.

“They could have saved it,” says Emery. “They had a rod in it, but then the bacteria was in too bad and my white blood cell count was up to 89,000-and they told my mom on a Friday that they had to take it.”

Emery’s mother recalls that the hazard was not confined to her son’s limbs.

“He ended up getting it in his stomach,” says Connie Emery, “and they tried to close his stomach back up, but when they did, the stitches ended up pulling away because the infection was taking over.”

An Army infectious disease physician says the germ has spread rapidly since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began. “Prior to the war, we were seeing one to two cases of acinetobacter infection per year,” remembers Lt. Col. Kimberly Moran, deputy director for tropical public health at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland.

“Now that’s much different. We’ve had hundreds of positive cultures over the last four years.”

Please, please read the entire article.  If you read nothing else today, study this.  This article will educate you and break your heart at the same time.  The doctors are doing all they know to do with the equipment and procedures they have, and the article goes on to describe the potential for kidney damage if they break out the “big gun” antibiotics too soon, but potential loss of life if they don’t.

Back to my Motomail to my son.  The answer for it is simple.  Radiation hormesis.  By definition, radiation hormesis is the “adaptive response of biological organisms to low levels of stress or damage, leading to a modest overcompensation to the disruption, and resulting in improved fitness.”  Basically, the radiation causes greatly increased activity of the body’s immune and reconstructive systems.  It has been tested on gas gangrene and other rapidly propagating infections, and there is no question as to its effectiveness.  Much more material to study on this can be found at Biological Effects of Low Level Exposures.

Are you still not convinced?  Then recall one of the final paragraphs of the report on Bacteria.

Researchers in military laboratories and elsewhere are exploring better means of fighting acinetobacter. Some are examining possible uses of radiation. At Harvard, Anderson is experimenting with a dye “painted” onto open wounds then activated with light. “Even the worst strains that are resistant to multiple antibiotics,” he says, “will succumb to the light-activated dye approach.”

Radiation is the answer.  This is true whether you accept or reject (and I do reject) the LNTH (linear no threshold hypothesis) for radiation.  The alleged risks are far outweighed by the advantages.  Thus my letter to my son made sense, if he read and remembered it and could discuss it under duress - that is.



  • bugslife

    As concerned as I am about the amount of radiation my husband has been exposed to this alternative treatment would still have been welcomed.
    My husband came from Iraq in July 2003 with this then multi drug resistant bacteria. The drugs they used to treat it nearly killed him.
    He lost 60 pounds, his hearing and balance were messed up, his organs were stressed, and his insulin tolerance is really whacked.
    The recovery time and chances of recovery are turned upside down when this bacteria comes into play.
    Now that strains of this bacteria have grown resistant to every antimicrobial available and have spread throughout the military and VA health systems and on to our civilian hospitals this will be a necessary option. I’m really glad to hear there is an option.
    Anyone who has a loved one in the war zone should be prepared to jump on a plane and join their loved one immediately in the event they are injured.
    The military evacuation chain is so stressed that it simply cannot deal with everything as well as the dedicated doctors and staff would like.
    Your loved one will need an advocate immedialely.
    I am only sorry I trusted them to get my husband home as fast as possible. I should have been there at Landstuhl for him.
    Marcie Hascall Clark
    http://www.iraqinfections.org

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You are currently reading "Bacteria, Radiation and Iraq", entry #970 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Iraq,The Wounded and was published February 26th, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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