Soldier recalls malaria infection; expert details prevention methods
Spc. Challen Kelker thought it was just another migraine headache.
Then came the fever and chills, followed by sweating.
“I couldn’t stay hydrated, because I was sweating so much,” Kelker said. “And I couldn’t keep anything down.”
Kelker, of the 498th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, was diagnosed with malaria about two weeks after returning from training at Warrior Base’s Dagmar North in July.
Kelker is not one of the soldiers who alerted Stars and Stripes, claiming the unit was going back into the field without repellent-treated uniforms and mosquito bed netting. He did, however, agree to talk about his experience with malaria and said he didn’t have permethrin-treated uniforms or mosquito bed netting during his July deployment.
U.S. Forces Korea regulation 40-2 requires commands to “ensure that USFK personnel conducting field training or on temporary duty overnight and exposed to mosquitoes in areas north of Seoul use all personal protective measures available, including permethrin-impregnated uniforms, permethrin-impregnated bed nets (during field exercises), proper wear of uniforms, and insect repellent used on exposed skin from 1 May through 30 October.”
Although mosquito-borne illnesses such as scrub typhus and the rare Japanese encephalitis also are of concern in South Korea, medical officials emphasize the regulation is mainly to protect against vivax malaria. The parasitic illness is rarely fatal in otherwise healthy people and will go away on its own — after weeks of sickness.
It requires weeks of drugs to remove it from the system when treated, though symptoms should improve gradually during treatment.
Vivax malaria comes in two forms — a non-latent malaria that usually strikes 12 to 21 days after contraction and a latent version that strikes six to 18 months after contraction.
Both have been found among the 13 diagnosed cases by the 18th Medical Command in South Korea this year, said command entomologist Maj. Jason Pike.
“The majority of the time, soldiers have not used permethrin-treated uniforms and they did not use DEET,” said Terry Klein, an 18th Medical Command consultant entomologist and former Army colonel.
Servicemembers can virtually eliminate their exposure to malaria by treating their uniforms with military-issued permethrin and by using military-grade insect-repellant lotion on their skin, which contains the crucial ingredient DEET, Pike and Klein said.
Commanders and first sergeants receive information on mosquito-borne illnesses during their incoming briefing, Pike said.
However, not everyone is stressing protection and educating their soldiers, Klein said.
“It’s a unit responsibility, and a lot of units aren’t doing it,” he said.
USAG-Red Cloud’s public works department sprays bases prone to mosquitoes. It sprays every three days during peak season at Warrior Base, according to garrison records. Warrior Base is the No. 1 place for servicemembers to get malaria in South Korea, Klein said.
However, spraying doesn’t counter the need for personal protection, Pike said.
“Spraying is minimally effective, just because you can’t spray everywhere as a guest in a foreign country,” Pike said.
Kelker says he’ll do what he can to prevent another bout of malaria, but it won’t give him a moment’s hesitation about returning to Warrior Base for training.
“The worst that can happen is only that I’ll get sick again,” Kelker said. “Oh well, stuff happens. Gotta drive on.”
Jimmy Norris contributed to this report.
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