ABOARD THE USS WASP -- The 22d Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) will employ a three-punch combination to combat malaria and other insect-borne diseases during its upcoming deployment.
"Historically, from the American Revolution to recent Middle East conflicts, insect-borne diseases have been a major issue, and recognized as such by the Department of Defense," said Navy Lt. David V. Thomas, the 22d MEU's medical planner. "These diseases can be a real battle-stopper."
Orchestrated by the 22d MEU Command Element's Health Services Section, the comprehensive preventative medicine program will apply to the approximately 2,200 Marines and Sailors assigned to the 22d MEU.
The program includes a layered approach including insecticide-treated uniforms, anti-malarial medicine, and individual health protection measures.
"Permethrin is a synthetic chemical insecticide that's similar to a natural insecticide that comes from the chrysanthemum plant," said Senior Chief Hospitalman Tammy R. Heap, describing the chemical used to treat the uniforms with which the Marines and Sailors will deploy. "It repels, and in some cases, kills the insects on contact."
The civilian company contracted to chemically 'impregnate' the uniforms treated the thousands of desert and woodland camouflage utilities the MEU's personnel will take on deployment. Each uniform article treated with the chemical was returned with a sewn tag describing the treatment and reminded the wearer of how to care for the uniform.
For those individuals whose uniforms weren't treated by Buzz-Off, Navy corpsman conducted the uniform saturation themselves to ensure that 100 percent of the MEU's personnel are protected.
According to Thomas, the non-staining and odorless Permethrin is harmless to humans, and is resistant to degradation by heat, sunlight, wear, laundering, and total immersion in water.
As potent as Permethrin is to mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers, and sand fleas, it does not completely protect the wearer. Therefore, the MEU will also rely on anti-malarial medicines to further protect the Marines and Sailors.
"Two weeks prior to entering certain regions where malaria and other diseases are common, most Marines and Sailors will begin taking a Mefloquine tablet on a weekly basis," said Heap, a native of Newton Falls, Ohio who is the MEU's senior Fleet Marine Force-qualified corpsman. "Aviators and those personnel that have a sensitivity to Mefloquine will instead take a Doxycycline capsule on a daily basis."
Heap went on to say that it is the individual Marine or Sailor who is the true first line of defense in health protection. In addition to the treated uniforms and medication, the 22d MEU's medical staff will ensure all MEU personnel possess the knowledge to protect themselves from insects and the diseases they might carry.
"Force health protection briefs will be given to all personnel prior to entering any disease-endemic [common or widespread] areas," Heap added. "We'll emphasize how important it is to utilize any and all preventive measures available including the simple things like keeping your sleeves rolled down and using insect repellent."
Thomas, who hails from New York City, best summed up the effectiveness of any preventive medicine program.
"Insect repellent is only helpful if you apply it correctly and frequently; chemically-treated uniforms are helpful only if you wear them; mosquito nets work when you sleep under them; and medications do their job only if you take them exactly as prescribed."
The 22d MEU consists of its Command Element, Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266 (Reinforced), and MEU Service Support Group 22. The MEU is scheduled to soon deploy aboard the amphibious assault ships WASP, SHREVEPORT, and WHIDBEY ISLAND as part of Expeditionary Strike Group 2.
For more information on the mission, organization, and status of the 22d MEU, visit the unit's website at www.22meu.usmc.mil.