10 Jan Vietnam veterans may suffer from fluke worm
Vietnam veterans may suffer from fluke worm, a cancer-causing parasite
The health risks facing veterans may be unique and challenging. Each theater of conflict has its own problems. Sometimes, these issues are handled directly by the Department of Veterans Affairs medical system. In other cases, it could take years for the conditions to be noticed and recognized by medical professionals, or to even manifest any noticeable symptoms.
Now, 44 years after American troops left the Vietnam theatre, a new type of service-related health issue is coming to light: parasitic fluke worm infections affecting Vietnam veterans at greater-than-average rates. Getting official recognition from the VA could help fight back against the problem, which can lead to life-threatening bile duct cancer.
Linking fluke worm and Vietnam service
When a VA study revealed that 20 percent of Vietnam veteran blood samples tested for fluke worms came back either positive or near-positive for the presence of the liver-infecting parasites, the question became how this potentially harmful infection occurred, according to the Associated Press. Newsweek explained that the parasites can enter the human body when people drink river water or eat fish from infected rivers. When in need of sustenance and running out of rationed food and water, military personnel ate or drank from rivers during the Vietnam War, thus potentially leading to the current crisis.
The parasites are linked to bile duct cancer, which is otherwise rare and may go years before detection. According to Newsweek, however, the disease has not been listed as a risk of service in Vietnam by the VA. Such a designation would automatically enable disability eligibility for vets who are afflicted with bile duct cancer.
Fighting bile duct cancer
Over the past 15 years, 700 Vietnam veterans have sought treatment for the diseases from the VA medical system, according to the AP. This relatively high incidence rate is what triggered media concerns about a link between that theater of conflict and the potential for infection. Bile duct cancer is usually rare in North America. According to the American Cancer Society, only 8,000 Americans are found to have the disease each year.
Success treating bile duct cancer tends to depend on when the disease is caught. When the cancer is detected in its early stages, the American Society of Clinical Oncology estimates the five-year survival rate at around 15 to 30 percent. If the disease has spread and infected other parts of the body, however, the odds of survival plummet to 2 percent. Signs of the disease include vomiting, unexplained weight loss, fever, itchy or jaundiced skin, darkening of urine and abdominal pain.
No official designation yet established
The VA has thus far stated that more testing is required to establish the definitive connection between service in Vietnam and an increased rate of bile duct cancer via fluke worm infection. The agency has not even issued a blanket order to recommend Vietnam vets get tested for the disease. Because the course of the disease and the odds of recovery depend strongly on when diagnosis is made, all Vietnam vets should talk to their doctors about testing for fluke worms and related health issues. A simple blood test now could save many more lives than waiting for the agency to catch up with the risk.