Pfc. Jessica Martin of the 702nd Main Support Battalion sprays Permethrin insect repellent on a uniform at Camp Casey, South Korea.

Pfc. Jessica Martin of the 702nd Main Support Battalion sprays Permethrin insect repellent on a uniform at Camp Casey, South Korea. (Seth Robson / S&S)

CAMP CASEY, South Korea — Soldiers guarding the Demilitarized Zone are preparing to battle a horde of mosquitoes that carry malaria across the border from North Korea each summer.

Malaria season near the DMZ runs from May until October, with the peak season in July and August, said 2nd Infantry Division preventive medicine officer Maj. John Maza.

Malaria, which is one of the top five causes of death from infectious diseases worldwide, infects 300,000 North Koreans each year and about 2,500 people in South Korea, Maza said.

“A mosquito might bite somebody who is infected with malaria. It could be in North Korea. It travels across the border and then after two weeks the mosquito is infected. Once it bites somebody else, they get malaria,” Maza said.

In 2002, 19 2nd ID soldiers contracted malaria and last year there were 16 cases in the division, he said.

“The further north you go, the more cases of malaria you find. The malaria belt is along the Imjin River,” he said.

The strain of malaria found on the Korean Peninsula is not usually fatal, but it can sap a soldier’s strength, Maza said. And it’s not a new problem to the Army either, he said, quoting part of a speech Gen. Douglas MacArthur gave in the Philippines during World War II.

“This will be a long war if for every division fighting the enemy, I must count on a second division in hospital with malaria and a third division convalescing from this debilitating disease,” MacArthur said.

Soldiers infected with malaria might experience fever, chills, night sweats and anemia (low red blood cell count), and might feel weak, Maza said.

“Anybody in the division who comes into a clinic with a fever, or a fever and low red blood cell count, we consider it to be malaria until proven otherwise. We send them to 121 Hospital for malaria tests,” he said.

Malaria can remain dormant in an infected person’s liver for months. The Korean strain of malaria has a short-term incubation phase of 12 to 21 days and a long-term incubation of six to nine months, Maza said.

“We treat people with malaria with two medicines — one to kill the malaria in the blood and the other to get rid of liver cysts,” he said.

2nd ID has anti-malaria pills available for its soldiers if the malaria problem becomes particularly severe, Maza said. However, the division prefers to rely on other measures to keep the disease at bay, he said.

Soldiers in the field should use insect repellent containing the ingredient DEET every 12 hours or more frequently if they are sweating, Maza said.

Field sanitation teams should spray uniforms with another insect repellent called Permethrin, he said.

Preventive medicine officers have developed a technique to treat uniforms with the repellent that costs $1.80 per uniform, he said.

“People are worried about getting cancer from Permethrin, but we use less than they use to treat a kid with lice,” Maza said.

Soldiers should wear their shirts tucked in with sleeves down and pants tucked into their boots, he said. Soldiers also are advised to avoid standing water and limit their exposure at night, when mosquitoes are most active, he said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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