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Warm Weather Woes
Scott Kubica, Ground Directorate, U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center, Fort Rucker, Alabama
Now that we’re firmly entrenched in the Army’s most active training period — the spring and summer months — our focus is on heat illness prevention, and rightly so. However, there are other things lurking in the training and recreation environments that also demand our attention, such as certain plants, insects and snakes, so Soldiers don’t fall victim to a preventable injury.
In most areas of the country, the woods are now covered in green foliage. Soldiers must be aware there are a few of those leafy green specimens they need to avoid; or, if they do come in contact with them, how to alleviate their effects. The three most common offenders are poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac.
Poison ivy and poison oak are the three-leafed ground dwellers Soldiers often walk through, lay in or rub up against on a tree. Poison sumac looks like a shrub or small tree and grows in damp areas. The results of an encounter with one of these plants can render a Soldier incapacitated for a few days.
The oily sap from these plants, called urushiol, rubs off on the skin or sometimes onto the clothes. The oil is then typically transferred when rubbing sweat from the face or eyes. Urushiol can cause itching, redness, slight swelling and blisters on the skin, which tend to appear 24 to 48 hours after contact. Although the blisters can break and ooze, the fluid cannot spread the rash.
There are several ways to prevent contact with these plants. First, leaders should provide an information brief explaining how to identify hazardous plants so Soldiers can try to avoid them. Second, when in areas of known plant growth, Soldiers should refrain from rubbing their faces with their hands. Finally, if a Soldier comes into contact with one of these plants, they should change their clothes and bathe to remove the oils from their skin. Those unfortunate Soldiers who have an acute allergic reaction due to these plants should visit their medics. They will probably give them calamine lotion to dry up the blisters and prevent spreading. In severe cases, a Soldier may have to be taken to the hospital and given treatment via topical steroids such as clobetasol, or systemic steroids and antihistamines or other allergy medicines.
From the less harmful black flies, chiggers and mosquitoes to the more threatening ticks, insects become more active in the spring and summer months. Protection from these pests can come by way of different DEET-containing lotions and sprays to uniforms impregnated with permethrin. Most of these insects can cause minor itching due to the reaction to the bite, which can be treated with topical Benadryl or other anti-itching creams. There are some cases where people get numerous bites and then scratch them until they become raw and infected, resulting in the need for medical treatment.
Mosquitoes are known carriers of West Nile Virus. Fortunately, most people infected with WNV will have no symptoms. However, about 1 in 5 people will develop a fever with other symptoms. Less than 1 percent of those infected develop a serious, sometimes fatal, neurologic illness. For the most part, though, these insects are little more than just a nuisance.
On the other hand, the tick can cause much more of an issue if you are bitten by an infected vector. Ticks can carry Colorado tick fever, ehrlichiosis, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, southern tick-associated rash illness and tularemia. While not all ticks are infectious, it’s better to be safe than sorry. If you find an embedded tick on your body, see your medical personnel and have them remove it and send it to the lab for diagnosis. If the diagnosis comes back positive, a doctor will then prescribe the proper medical treatment.
With the introduction of the permethrin-treated ACU, the Army has provided a product that will enhance force health protection and readiness. A single factory treatment with permethrin offers significant benefits to the wearer, including increased protection against the bites of mosquitoes, flies, midges, ticks and chiggers for the life of the uniform. The permethrin-treated ACU protects Soldiers from insect- and tick-borne diseases while in garrison, training and noncombat deployed environments worldwide.
Wearing permethrin-treated uniforms is a key component of the DOD Insect Repellent System. Soldiers wearing the uniform should continue to properly protect themselves against insect bites and diseases by wearing it with the sleeves rolled down, closing all openings that might let in insects, tucking pants into boots and the undershirt into pants, and keeping the uniform loose. For more than 20 years, the DOD Insect Repellent System has been proven to be highly effective in preventing biting insects from becoming an annoyance or making Soldiers sick.
Lastly, there are those creatures that slither on the ground. Snakes become more active as the days heat up. Ensure Soldiers get briefed to avoid snakes and are taught to identify poisonous varieties that may frequent training areas. In the event a Soldier is bitten, it’s a good idea to identify the snake if at all possible. This will greatly assist medical personnel in their treatment plan. Most snake bites won’t kill a person, but they can make them sick, so it’s best to get treated immediately in order to minimize the severity.
Some poisonous snakes found in North America, such as the copperhead, rattlesnake and water moccasin, have venom consisting of neurotoxins that affect the nervous system and brain. The coral snake, the most poisonous, has hemotoxin, which affects the heart and cardiovascular system. The bottom line is if you see a snake, leave it alone! Soldiers must be proactive and check sleeping areas and sleeping bags before settling in for the night. “Jake the snake” has been known to slither into sleeping bags during the day to escape the heat.
As the temperatures warm up and you get out to train or enjoy some much-needed recreation, make sure to take those preventive measures to keep everyone safe from those warm weather woes!