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BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq — Troops are now weaning themselves from the malaria medicine they’ve been taking throughout the spring and summer as doctors mark the end to malaria season.

“The malaria parasite has to have a certain temperature to grow in the mosquito’s gut,” said Air Force Capt. Tyler Watson, chief of public health for the 332nd Expeditionary Aeromedical Squadron at Balad.

As temperatures have cooled into the 30s at night sometimes, with daily highs often no greater than the 60s, the Anopheles mosquito and its hitchhiking parasite have taken a holiday, Watson said. The malaria season will begin again when temperatures warm up in April.

Watson said the season ended Nov. 30, but airmen will keep taking chloroquine weekly until the end of December. In January, they will begin daily doses of primaquine for two weeks.

The first medicine cleans the parasite from the blood; the second removes it from the liver.

For the Army, malaria season ended on Nov. 5, said Sgt. Carlton Overton, immunization noncommissioned officer in charge at the Troop Medical Clinic at Logistics Support Area Anaconda, which is connected to the air base.

“Climate will determine when the season ends,” he said, and the Army determined it was cool enough by early November to quash the malaria threat.

Soldiers have already stopped taking chloroquine and are now taking primaquine.

Overton said the Army is also testing soldiers for the enzyme known as Glucose 6 Phosphate Dehydrogenase, or G6PD. If a person’s G6PD enzyme is normal, they will take primaquine. If not, they will be given doxycycline, a one-a-day pill like primaquine.

The Air Force does similar screening when members enter the service.

Dr. (Lt. Col.) Paul Friedrichs, commander of the 332nd EAS, said it is not a lack of understanding that prevents Iraq from stamping out the problem.

“The doctors I’ve met from Iraq are well-trained. They know what they need to do,” he said.

But they lack the medicines to prevent the disease and the resources to stamp it out at the source.

“That’s the reason malaria is not eradicated [in Iraq],” he said.

The military preventive health experts identified and sprayed mosquito-breeding grounds in Iraq. Bed netting and repellent was provided troops. Uniforms were treated with permethrin to keep the critters at bay.

Friedrichs said there is resistance to the uniform treatment.

“I think there’s always a concern about using a chemical on your uniform,” he said, adding that the treatment is safe.

Overton cautioned that troops returning from the malaria-infested areas should be careful about becoming blood donors because of the medicine they’ve taken.

“They can not give blood back in the civilian sector for three years,” he said. “They can donate to other soldiers who have been taking the pill.”

Neither the Army nor Air Force has reported any U.S. cases of malaria in Iraq. Watson said the hospital has done some blood tests to rule out malaria for a couple of sick airmen.

But, he said, the disease may not show itself for some time. Symptoms may not surface for up to four years after the mosquito has bitten.

“We encourage people to look for symptoms after they leave the area,” he said. “Nothing’s 100 percent.”

More about malaria ...

¶ Symptoms of malaria are much like the flu, including high fever, fatigue and chills.

¶ Although eradicated from many developed countries, it remains a serious health risk in many parts of the world.

¶ About 300 million people are affected by malaria each year and between 1 million and 1.5 million die from it worldwide.

¶ There were 1,337 cases of malaria, including eight deaths, reported for 2002 in the United States — even though malaria was official eradicated in the early 1950s.

¶ Of the cases in the States, all but five were attributed to the victim becoming infected in another country.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization

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