Nearly 150 US soldiers in Iraq have been diagnosed with a parasitic skin disease, and hundreds more could unknowingly be infected, experts said.
So far 148 soldiers have confirmed cases, but hundreds more are expected, entomologist and Army Lt. Col. Russell Coleman, who spent 10 months in Iraq, was quoted by the USA Today newspaper as saying on Friday.
The disease, Leishmaniasis, which is called the "Baghdad Boil" by US soldiers, is carried by biting sand flies and doesn't spread from person to person. It causes skin lesions that if untreated may take months, even years, to heal and can be disfiguring, doctors said.
Sand flies are active during warm weather, and soon after US troops arrived in Iraq in late March, "we started seeing soldiers basically eaten alive," Coleman said. "They'd get a hundred, in some cases, 1,000 bits in a single night."
The disease has an incubation period of six months on average, so a person infected in September may not show symptoms until March.
Coleman and Army Lt. Col. Peter Weina, a leishmaniasis expert still in Iraq, predicted in April that there would be 400 cases, based on the number of bites seen and tests that show about one in every 70 sand flies carries the bug.
US doctors are concerned that soldiers coming home may be harboring the parasite without knowing it, the report said.
Leishmaniasis is rare in the United States, and American doctors may not recognize it, said Glenn Wortmann, a physician at the Washington-based Walter Reed Army Medical Center.