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Skin Woes Take Toll on U.S. Combat Troops
Date:2/17/2009

e range of skin conditions involved, from life-threatening lesions to conditions that wear soldiers down, increase their risk of infection or their ability to function well, leave permanent scarring, or are simply a nuisance, Anderson added.

"The study suggests that thorough skin evaluation prior to deployments, early diagnosis, prevention and prompt care on site, and the availability of expertise by telemedicine technologies would make a difference," Anderson said.

"With a few exceptions, such as infectious diseases endemic to the countries of conflict, military skin problems have not changed much since 20th century warfare. What has changed is our ability to potentially deal with them," he added.

For the study, McGraw's team collected data on 170 military personnel who left combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan for ill-defined dermatologic reasons between 2003 and 2006. These were classified as non-specific skin eruptions or skin disorders not otherwise specified.

In total, 154 soldiers were seen by dermatologists and the others were seen by other doctors. Thirty-four individuals were diagnosed with dermatitis or general skin inflammation, 16 with non-cancerous moles, 13 with skin cancer and 11 with no conclusive diagnosis. Chronic itchy rash, eczema, hives and psoriasis were the other common conditions, the researchers found.

Skin troubles can worsen with sun exposure and extremes in temperature and humidity, the researchers said. Diseases common to the combat area, as well as insects and crowded living conditions, can also exacerbate dermatologic woes. Other factors include difficulty maintaining personal hygiene and the chafing and sweating caused by body armor, helmets and other protective gear, McGraw noted.

Several measures will reduce the likelihood of evacuation from the war zone for skin problems, McGraw said. These include identifying individuals with chronic skin diseases during medical screeni
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