Some Vietnam vets infected with liver flukes

| November 23, 2017 | 24 Comments

A number of folks have sent links to the news that many Vietnam veterans brought back parasites from their tour. From Connecting Vets;

The Department of Veterans Affairs this spring commissioned a small pilot study to look into the link between liver flukes ingested through raw or undercooked fish and a rare bile duct cancer. It can take decades for symptoms to appear. By then, patients are often in tremendous pain, with just a few months to live.

Of the 50 blood samples submitted, more than 20 percent came back positive or bordering positive for liver fluke antibodies, said Sung-Tae Hong, the tropical medicine specialist who carried out the tests at Seoul National University in South Korea.


Gerry Wiggins, who served in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969, has already lost friends to the disease. He was among those who got the call.

“I was in a state of shock,” he said. “I didn’t think it would be me.”

The 69-year-old, who lives in Port Jefferson Station, New York, didn’t have any symptoms when he agreed to take part in the study, but hoped his participation could help save lives. He immediately scheduled further tests, discovering he had two cysts on his bile duct, which had the potential to develop into the cancer, known as cholangiocarcinoma. They have since been removed and — for now — he’s doing well.

Though rarely found in Americans, the parasites infect an estimated 25 million people worldwide.

If you spent any time in a river or creek while you were in country over there, you should probably go get it checked out.

From Fox News;

The reporting found that about 700 veterans with cholangiocarcinoma have been seen by the VA in the past 15 years. Less than half of them submitted claims for service-related benefits, mostly because they were not aware of a possible connection to Vietnam. The VA rejected 80 percent of the requests, but decisions often appeared to be haphazard or contradictory, depending on what desks they landed on, the AP found.

Category: Veteran Health Care

Comments (24)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Pinto Nag says:

    There’s a saying in medicine: When you hear hoofbeats, don’t go looking for zebras. But when you are dealing with a population that had been exposed to tropical diseases, don’t you think that would be the FIRST stop when symptoms appear? It would make sense to fit the expertise to the medical population being dealt with, but that’s not what I’m seeing, either in these stories or what I’ve seen in the Vietnam vets I’ve known. And that begs the question: what about our vets coming back from the ME? Are THEY being followed for diseases indigenous to that region?

    • 11B-Mailclerk says:

      99% of the doctors here probably have zero clue as to what to expect from the Mideast or Southwest Asia, let alone the fringe items.

      Granted, the information is far, far more readily available today than 30 years ago. But one has to learn to ask the right questions.

  2. NHSparky says:

    VA rejects 80 percent of claims.

    Or just drags it out until they die. Fucking par for the course.

  3. Isanfoodlover says:

    folks who spent time in the SERVICE in NE Thailand have to worry about this disease if they partook in the local food, esp padek and plara

  4. MSG Eric says:

    They only rejected 80%? Maybe there were a few new people who let those other 20% slip through?

    In 20 years I fear for what we of the sandbox will have to go through when our lungs are falling apart. That is, if we don’t have new body parts available in drive thru’s or something like that.

    • NHSparky says:

      What scares the shit out of me is that out of everyone who wants single payer/socialized medicine, none of them realize this is what they’ll be getting.

      Paying for Corvettes and getting Chevettes.

    • Thunderstixx says:

      That is already happening.
      Anyone that served in Iraq during DS I was exposed to all kinds of the precursors to the WMD’s that Hussein was desperately trying to assemble.
      Many entire companies that served in areas that things were burned are dealing with respiratory problems.
      I know we have many of them on here and I believe that Jonn is one of those victims that cannot get compensation for that diagnosis.

  5. Sj says:

    No fluke could have survived the booze in WItTLesS’ liver.

  6. Ex-PH2 says:

    The liver fluke in raw fish is one reason I don’t eat sushi.

  7. 26Limabeans says:

    Oh great. What the hell did I eat over there?
    I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday.
    I will never forget that dog meat taco from a tiny place in the Pomona Barrio though.

  8. Ex-PH2 says:

    I think a large animal vet would probably do a better job of addressing this than the VA.

    If you picked up the liver fluke in Southeast Asia, you’ve probably been shedding the eggs for decades without knowing it, too.

    Sheep are known to carry liver flukes, too, but does anyone ever eat raw lamb or mutton? No, because it is gross enough by itself. Ain’t Mother Nature grand?

    This will get straightened out if enough people who were over there rag at the VA about it. And Pinto Nag’s question also applies. I doubt there is anyone native to the Middle East who is not infested with some kind of intestinal parasite, never mind fleas.

    Meantime, I will continue to not eat sushi. I’ll stick to cooked meat, thank you.


    Hmmm….. Does that mean flukes can survive Dioxin toxicity?
    It would be interesting and scary to see what the current level of contamination in those ‘Brown Waterways’

    I spent much time in the training areas of CFB Gagetown where AO was tested in the 60’s…….yeeechhh

  10. Luddite4change says:

    A buddy of mine picked some up in SE Asia in the mid 90s, but they didn’t become symptomatic until 10 years later. He spent 3 month at Walter reed to rid himself of them.

  11. aGrimm says:

    The article is short on details, but I noted that the researchers were unsure if the incidence of flukes and cholangiocarcinoma was different than the general population. Upon reading about both I see that there are a lot of pathways for getting either one or both problems. Before getting excited, I recommend reading the following:

    Note that the liver fluke has a complicated life cycle that makes it somewhat difficult to contract.

    A bunch of questions tweaked my smell test meter. Note the line in the article, “Of the 50 blood samples submitted, more than 20 percent came back positive or bordering positive for liver fluke antibodies”. Without further info of how the blood samples were solicited (general population? people with certain symptoms?), this line can be deceptive. Fun with statistics deceptive. What is the ratio of positive to “bordering positive” (whatever bordering positive means)? Why don’t the researchers look for flukes in the subject’s feces which is a definitive way to determine if flukes are present?

    I highly applaud the research, but at this time I urge veterans to take this all with a grain of salt until further info is available. There are a gazillion factors that need to be taken into account before research of this nature can establish solid correlation/causation.

    • aGrimm says:

      As a follow up to my post above regarding fun with statistics…

      2.7 million US military served in-country in Nam. The incidence of cholangiocarcinoma is 1-2 per 100,000 in Western countries. Thus in the 2.7 million we could expect to see 27-54 incidences of the cancer.

      The researchers found 20% of their samples potentially had flukes. Applying this (inappropriately) to the 2.7 million, there should be 540,000 cases of flukes in the in-country veteran subset. Whoa! I think this would have been seen by now.

      My point being that it is wise to question the way researchers present their statistics before one gets all excited.

      For the time being, given the normal incidence of cholangiocarcinoma and the number of possible routes for its appearance, I’m going to defend the VA’s rejection of benefits until better facts appear. Granting benefits based on speculative “science” or based on the “I deserve the benefits because I was there” meme is poor policy.

    • CCO says:

      I saw that “borderline” detail too, but I popped an emailed myself. Comparison: I thought I’d had a fourth case of Rocky Mountain spotted fever this summer, but no I didn’t. I was just sick. My numbers were in the range when tested to indicate I’d had it before—twice per my (civilian) doctor.

    • Ex-PH2 says:

      To make it more valid, they should be testing in-country vets who appear with claims of this issue against people who were not there at all, and in the service at the same time.

  12. Perry Gaskill says:

    I read this story a couple of days ago, and it seemed to have a bit of WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE! hysteria going on. Something that set off an alarm bell, for example, was the claim about having to eat raw fish when a unit in the jungle ran out of regular rations.

    Yet another question is how the 50 blood samples were chosen, and how they happened to end up with a researcher in Korea– who cheerfully admitted there might be false positives.

    The story can also make you wonder if liver flukes were localized down in IV Corps and the Mekong Delta. All the rest of the country is in relatively close proximity to saltwater. That means access to fish sources that wouldn’t have had flukes from river water.

    War story alert: I remember going fishing one day near an island in Nha Trang Bay. It was with some ARVN in a big old wooden boat. They didn’t fish with bait and tackle. They used concussion grenades.

  13. 11B-Mailclerk says:

    Well, this time the VA won’t be able to dismiss this as a statistical fluke.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *