USFK malaria cases drop to zero in 2008
November 9, 2008
CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea — U.S. Forces Korea reported no malaria cases so far this year, thanks in part — indirectly — to North Korea.
South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 1,014 malaria cases this year as of November 1, down 52.9 percent from last year’s totals. Rarely is a case of malaria found after the cold season starts.
In 2007, USFK had 22 reported cases of malaria, according to 65th Medical Brigade figures.
Both organizations said there are several reasons for the decline, but South Korean assistance north of the border may be the biggest reason.
"This huge drop is largely attributed to South Korea’s effort in shipping anti-malaria supplies to North Korea to help prevent the spread," said Lee Eun-gyu of the South Korean CDC’s infectious disease and surveillance department.
The sparsely developed border area near the Demilitarized Zone, which includes the Warrior Base training complex, is one of the highest risk areas for malaria for USFK troops, military medical officials said.
Lt. Col. Jason Pike, 65th Medical Brigade entomologist, said the exact reasons for the drop aren’t clear, but the North Korean aid and a mild summer may have played a part.
The vivax malaria strain most commonly found in South Korea comes in two forms — a nonlatent malaria that usually strikes 12 to 21 days after contraction and a latent version that strikes six to 18 months after contraction.
Malaria’s symptoms include prolonged chills, fever, vomiting and convulsions. Those infected may suffer relapses. Left untreated, the parasitic infection can be deadly.
Adherence to USFK prevention guidelines also may have helped prevent malaria cases among troops this year, Pike said.
A USFK regulation requires soldiers to use "all personal protective measures available, including permethrin-impregnated uniforms, permethrin-impregnated bed nets [during field exercises]," between May 1 and Oct. 30.
Troops also are directed to properly wear their uniforms and use insect repellent.
Permethrin is a chemical sprayed on uniforms that lasts after several washes and eliminates nearly all risk of malaria when combined with DEET mosquito skin repellent.
The Army has conducted several studies confirming permethrin’s safety. However, a 2003 Army-funded study at Virginia Tech linked low doses of permethrin exposure in mice to symptoms associated with the onset of Parkinson’s disease.
Health officials last year said that despite the regulation, not all units were taking the necessary precautions to fight malaria.
Last year, a Stars and Stripes investigation revealed that the 498th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion had not issued anti-malaria protection to soldiers during a field exercise at Warrior Base, near the Demilitarized Zone.
After at least four soldiers contracted malaria and another exercise was planned for the same area, soldiers voiced their concerns to Stars and Stripes. During the following two days, permethrin and bed nets were distributed.
Lee added that the drop in malaria cases may be part of South Korea’s larger plan for malaria elimination by 2015.
In 2007, there was an average of 4.6 cases of malaria for every 100,000 people. South Korea’s goal is to drop that figure to 1 case for every 100,000 people by 2015, he said.
This year’s decline was far more than the 30 percent annual decline they need to reach that goal.
"We encouraged every provincial governmental office to join our effort … in particular, the places with high densities of mosquitoes," Lee said.