Climate Induced Medical Problems

This is trench foot

Vietnam could accumulate up to 50 inches of during the rainy season and this lead to many problems with the soldiers trying to stay dry, and specifically their feet.  Jungle rot, the same condition as trench foot, is a condition that forces capillaries to become restricted and prevents oxygenated blood from moving to the extremities.  Because a soldiers’ feet are restricted and contained with socks and boots their feet are unable to swell or to move blood which caused numbness in an effected area.  If left untreated it led to open sores and blisters that were very susceptible to fungal infections, if not treated an infection could lead to gangrene, a condition were the infected area cut off from blood flow leads to the death of muscle tissue.  Once gangrene has set in, the only treatment is amputation of the affected area.

Not only was the monsoon season a problem for the soldiers in Vietnam but the dry season also posed a similar physical threat.  During those dry months the average temperature climbed to around 90 to 100 degrees.  With the temperature and the humidity both being high it caused a number of soldiers to contract heatstroke.  Heatstroke occurs when the body overheats and can occur when exposed to prolonged physical exertion under high temperatures.  The problems this could cause in the field is confusion, agitation, slurred speech, irritability, delirium, seizures, and in some serious cases a person can slip into a coma.  If a person is left untreated, heatstroke can lead to vital organ damage and in extreme cases death.  Because of the extreme conditions all soldiers were working in, most soldiers at one point during their tour contracted jungle rot or heatstroke on their tour.

Spc. Richard “Dickie” Allen Cable assist a wounded soldier in Vietnam in the late 1960’s

Since Vietnam is mostly a topical climate, soldiers were subjected to a diversity of unique wildlife and insects.  Mosquitos which live in almost every environment except for the extreme cold, their habitat is usually forests, marshes, tall grasses and weeds, and ground that is wet at least for part of the year.  Vietnam fits all these criteria for supporting a vibrant mosquitos population.  Other than leaving bites that itch mosquitos can also carry diseases like malaria.  Malaria is a mosquito-borne illness caused by a parasite. People with malaria often experience fever, chills, and flu-like illness. Left untreated, they may develop severe complications and die.  During the Vietnam war there was close to 25,000 cases of malaria with up to 400,000 sick days given to those soldiers, only 46 soldiers died due to malaria related complications, which were the first deaths due to malaria since World War II. About 90 percent of malaria cases reported in Vietnam were plasmodium falciparum, which was the most feared because it targeted the brain, if the malaria is left untreated it ran the risk of becoming a cerebral infection, which develops when the infected cells stop circulating after they reach the brain and cause obstruction of the blood flow which deprives the brain of oxygen, and could cause brain hemorrhaging or death but in troops it mostly it caused psychiatric symptoms, which could lead to more fatalities in field.

Another insect although not as severe mosquitos were ticks.  Since mosquitos inject a parasite into the blood stream it’s much harder to treat than ticks, which could carry lyme disease.  Lyme disease can cause fever, headache, fatigue, and a skin rash, but it can easily be treated by simply removing the tick and the aid of some antibiotics.  The problem these diseases caused was not that they have a high mortality rate, contacting these illnesses took soldiers off the line.

Medical Problems