Something In Afghan Soil Is Killing American Troops

hospital, military, defence

Photo: Manuel J. Martinez via US Air Force

Military doctors and researchers are fighting to defeat a new enemy in the fight to keep injured troops alive: the soil that can embed itself in wounds caused by bombs. Little more than a year after ordering ballistic boxers to better protect service members from devastating lower-body injuries, the Pentagon is back to the drawing board to defend against debris and fungus.

The Army Research Laboratory (ARL) reported yesterday it’s testing the current personnel protection equipment soldiers receive against the smaller debris and soil particulate that can cause wound contamination or internal bleeding.

To figure out which soil and debris types are the most dangerous, and which materials will best defend against the threats, the researchers are firing sand-cannons at a ballistic gelatin block, which is supposed to stand-for a body. Then they watch video taken on a high-speed camera so they can analyse the size and speed at which the soil penetrates the gelatin.

Three-dimensional microscopes then let the researchers see what kind of impact the particles had on different protective materials, such as Kevlar or jersey-knitted silk.

“Fundamentally, our role in this is to understand the underpinning science and technology of the threat itself, how explosive charges interact with the soil then with the target, but also the fundamental mechanical properties of the materials that are acquired to stop these threats,” Dr. Mike Dalzell, a scientist from the British Ministry of defence, told the ARL Public Affairs Office.

Dalzell also said that it’s important to the team to find materials that protect, but still allow for comfort and flexibility.

On top of that challenge, USA Today reported today that 100 service members, mostly soldiers and Marines, are diagnosed with Mucor and Aspergillus terreus, tough-to-identify fungi that gets “blown-deep” into blast wounds.

The organism is especially dangerous because the wounded skin looks healthy at first, so doctors trying to preserve a limb will stop cutting before they get to the infection. But once the fungus gets to work, surgeons have to amputate more of the limb. Six of the 100 infected have died, Navy Cmdr. Carlos Rodriguez told USA Today.

The doctors said the fungi seems to have the greatest effects on troops with multiple or lower-body injuries, since they often also receive blood and therefore have weaker immune systems.

New guidelines tell doctors and medics to soak the wounds of those at highest risk with a diluted bleach solution to kill the spores before they can attack the wounds.

Hopefully, the results of the ARL’s testing will wind up protecting ground troops before they’re hit with improvised explosive devices, so the fungi won’t have wounds to further attack.

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