Attrition: Sand Fleas and the Bleeding Soldiers

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December20, 2006: Sand fleas, casualties in Iraq and Mad Cow disease are causing a blood shortage in the American military. Normally, the Department of Defense gets all the blood it needs from members of the military, and family members. People in the military are more likely to donate blood, and very few are disqualified for health reasons. In general, fewer than five percent of those eligible to give blood, do so, and this is enough for both the civilian and military populations. But the operations in Iraq have exposed everyone over there to sand fleas, which often carry, and pass on, leishmaniasis. This disease causes skin lesions, but can be cured. However, to keep it out of the blood supply, troops coming back from Iraq cannot give blood for a year. A smaller, and shrinking, group of troops who cannot donate at all, are those who served in Europe during the 1990s, and were at risk of getting Mad Cow disease.

Thus, the dozen or so new surgical casualties from Iraq each day, plus all those troops who can no longer donate, has led to more publicity, within the military, about blood drives and the need to donate. The military has enough people, still eligible to give blood, but it now requires more encouragement to get those, who normally don't donate blood, to open a vein once in a while.

 


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