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The dust of an Afghan compound, or indeed a British farmyard, can contain a number of threats to our health, including the Q-Fever virus, which has seriously affected former infantryman Wayne Bass’ health.

Wayne Bass served in Helmand Province in 2011 when he was in the 2nd Battalion, the Mercian Regiment. He is now suing the Army for not taking sufficient care to prevent the onset of Q-fever which has left him suffering a wide range of serious symptoms from shortness of breath to joint pains.

Like all soldiers in that conflict, he was exposed to the dust and filth typical of that place, and especially in firefights when you occasionally have your nose half an inch off the ground, or when running through clouds of sandy soil and animal dung kicked up by nearby explosions. On the whole, the human body is able to cope with the bugs thrown at it – but some individuals can have specific weaknesses in their defences that allow viruses or bacteria to gain a foothold, with long term consequences that can be serious.

The dried animal dung is significant as it can contain something called Q-fever bacteria which is relatively common in cattle, sheep and goats, and which can survive outside the animal in their droppings. It is almost certainly this that Wayne was breathing in (in common with many thousands of others of course), and which has led to the chronic symptoms which he is suffering from today.

As with a number of “fevers”, the effects are often not fully felt or indeed understood, for a long time after the illness has taken hold. Q-fever, for example, has many symptoms that might be mistaken for Glandular Fever, or Lyme Disease. They might include:

  • high fever with chills and/or sweating
  • coughing
  • chest pain while breathing/shortness of breath
  • headache
  • diarrhoea/nausea
  • abdominal pain
  • jaundice
  • muscle pain and joint pain

Whereas Q-Fever and Lyme disease can be treated by antibiotics, Glandular Fever cannot, so the presence of some or all of the symptoms listed above might not necessarily lead to a diagnosis and prescription for a course of treatment.  It can also be the reason that someone might not get treatment for some time after being infected as their symptoms could be attributed to so many other causes: PTSD, flu-bugs, general depression, post-concussion recovery etc.

(Some of you who have deployed overseas might recall being given small cards to put in your wallets after returning to the UK and which had a note to the effect that the person carrying the card had been in a place where certain sorts of disease were endemic. The aim was to advise medical staff to check for diseases and causes that might otherwise not be considered in the relatively benign environment of a typical British GP’s practise.)

Similar problems were seen after the Gulf War of 1990 when the term “Gulf War Syndrome” was coined to describe a range of symptoms with no properly defined cause. Possible reasons ranged from PTSD through to poisoning by Uranium-oxides left behind after DU rounds were used against Iraqi tanks. It is of course possible that Q-Fever was also a factor as conditions in and around Iraqi villages and towns could be very similar to those found in parts of Afghanistan.

 

Q-fever may be found wherever there are sheep or cattle, including on a typical, well-managed British farm.

 

It does not take a visit to a war-zone in Afghanistan to contract Q-Fever. It is potentially present wherever there are animals, and that includes farms or any other place that animals are kept in this country, or indeed the food processing industry where raw meats is being handled. Farmers, vets, and livestock workers are all at some sort of risk, as is anyone who visits a farm or lives near one.  In fact, along with a host of other bugs and viruses, Q-fever is part of many of our daily lives. It is also likely that many of us have suffered from a mild dose of the fever without even realising it, as the symptoms are often attributed to a cold or mild flu-bug.

However, and this is where Wayne Bass’ case takes a rather more serious twist, if untreated – and if you are particularly susceptible to the virus, it can lead to serious complications which, though not common, can include pneumonia, meningitis, or even miscarriages in women. Wayne finds it hard to walk any distance and on some days is almost immobilised. Attempts to treat him with antibiotics seem not to have worked. His claim that the Army failed to take care of him (and others) by not pre-treating for the likelihood of ingesting Q-fever, is central to his claim against the Army. For its part, the Army says they followed the advice of experts which is that pre-treatment against the fever was/is not recommended for a number of medical reasons. As is so often the case, however, other experts dispute this, stating that pre-treatment could have helped without leading to any other complications.

TMT will bring updates of this case as and when they are made available. In the meantime, a sensible course of action for anyone who suspects they might have contracted something like Q-fever would be to  seek medical advice as soon as possible to help minimise the effects of any infection and also to allow the Forces to make a quicker determination about the cause and possible resultant compensation.

 

 

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