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'Baghdad Boil' Afflicting U.S. Troops

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WASHINGTON - Staff Sgt. Eric DiVona didn't notice the small bumps on his face and left earlobe until he returned from serving nine months in Iraq. Nothing much, he thought, probably just a spider bite. But soon those bumps erupted into open sores, one growing to the size of a half dollar.

What DiVona thought was a spider bite was actually caused by a tiny sand fly with a fierce parasite stewing in its gut, an organism that causes stubborn and ugly sores that linger for months.

The left side of DiVona's face puffed up, a swelling that wouldn't go away. And he noticed he was not the only one in his unit with such symptoms.

"A lot of people started coming down with sores," he said, sitting at Walter Reed Army Medical Center with an IV taped to his right arm. "It was like, 'You ain't cool unless you got it.'"

Scientists and doctors refer to the disease caused by the parasite as cutaneous leishmaniasis. But soldiers serving in sand-fly rich Iraq call it, with little affection, the "Baghdad boil."

The sores are not painful or contagious, but left untreated they can last up to 18 months and leave permanent, burn-like scars. Since the flies bite exposed areas, many soldiers have sores on their necks, faces and arms.

Doctors at Walter Reed have seen 653 cases of leishmaniasis, and the hospital's infectious disease wards until recently overflowed with soldiers undergoing a 20-day treatment regimen.

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