Microbiology, Medicine, and the Military

Today is Memorial Day, a day in which we remember those who died while serving in the Armed Forces. However, not every member of the Armed Forces died on the battlefield.In the American Civil War, its estimated that 2.5% of the American population died, which would be about 7 million people today. Strangely enough 2/3 of those people were killed by disease, not in battle.

Disease is still a factor that affects the Armed Forces today. There are 9 different infectious diseases that can allow Veterans of the Gulf War to apply for disability compensation. In Iraq and Afghanistan, drug-resistant bacteria such as Acinetobacter (dubbed Iraqibacter by some) are particularly problematic for soldiers. This bacteria normally infects people with weakened immune systems. However, soldiers wounded in battle are also likely to be infected. Wounded soldiers being transported “6,000 to 8,5000 miles within days” have numerous opportunities for bacterial transmittance.

However, the threat of disease has led the U.S. Armed Forces to be a driving force in the advancement of scientific research. The spread of disease in the Civil War resulted in a starting point for many modern medical accomplishments, even ideas as simple as clean, well ventilated field hosptials.Today the advancement continues as the Armed Forces deal with the continual threat of bacterial infection. This includes finding new drug treatments as well as better infection control procedures, such as isolation of patients with multidrug-resistant infections. From 2005 to 2010, the percentage of wounded troops in Level V trauma centers, whom were found to be colonized with Acinetobacter decreased from 21% to 4%.

The Department of Defense dedicates 2.3% of its base budget ($12.3 billion) towards its Science and Technology program. This includes organizations such as The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease, the Department of Defense’s leading laboratory for medical biological defense research. The military also has military centers, such as the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, specifically to serve the medical needs of military families, those on active duty, and veterans. In fact, the recent case of a “superbug” resistant to our last line defense antibiotic was identified in a military clinic and confirmed at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. However, the Department of Defense is also considered an important source of research funding for academic institutions, rewarding $149 million last year to select academic institutes under its Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative. In short, the armed forces not only work to treat the medical problems they are currently facing, but work to prepare for the future medical problems the entire world may face.

Today, I invite everyone to remember those members of the Armed Forces that died in battle but also those that died from  medical conditions afterwards. As we remember the fallen, remember those who are still fighting. Then give thanks for the medical advancements developed because they were once needed to treat those on the battlefield.

The Motley Advocate (Editor)
Slide1Motley Advocate is a Christian, a biologist, a writer and an amateur at many other things. He doesn’t  have a twitter but you can e-mail him at science.aces15@gmail.com

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