Traumatic brain injury has become the signature war wound for soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan–and new research suggests that soldiers may not be adequately protected against the explosions that cause these injuries. By modeling how blast waves propagate through a soldier’s head, an MIT research group found that current combat helmets don’t offer much protection, because the blast waves from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) can enter the skull through the face.
“There’s a passageway through those soft tissues directly into the brain tissue, without having to go through bone or anything hard,” said Raul Radovitzky, an aeronautical engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. [LiveScience]
In the study, which was published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers created their own computer model based on a real person’s brain scans; what they found actually contradicted findings from earlier, rougher models. A previous study, published in August, suggested that current helmet design actually increases brain injuries during an explosion by focusing and intensifying the blast waves inside the helmet.
The Iraq war and its aftermath have left physical and psychic wounds on both local residents who lived through the American invasion and many U.S. soldiers. But anecdotal reports suggest that another demographic may have suffered as well: unborn babies. Doctors in Fallujah, Iraq have reported a high number of children born with birth deformities ever since the massive battle between Iraqi insurgents and U.S. forces that raged there in 2004.
While no medical studies have been done or official reports have been issued, many Fallujah locals suspect that U.S. weaponry used in the assault has left a lingering effect.
A debate is expected to come up in the British parliament sometime next week on the subject. The call for debate came up after the latest report by BBC’s John Simpson, in which an Iraqi pediatrician said she was seeing two to three deformed babies each day; most of the children had cardiac complications. The doctor clarified that while she didn’t have any official figures, she had noted an increase in the number of cases since the American invasion. The current level of cardiac birth defects in Fallujah, said the BBC, is 13 times higher than that in Europe.
The region today known as Iraq was once known as Mesopotamia, which means “Land Between the Rivers,” and since that ancient time the land between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers has been renowned for its fecund soil and thriving farms. But now the Mesopotamian cradle of civilisation seems to be returning to desert [New Scientist].
Decades of war and mismanagement, compounded by two years of drought, are wreaking havoc on Iraq’s ecosystem, drying up riverbeds and marshes, turning arable land into desert, killing trees and plants, and generally transforming what was once the region’s most fertile area into a wasteland…. “We’re talking about something that’s making the breadbasket of Iraq look like the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma in the early part of the 20th century” [Los Angeles Times], said Adam L. Silverman, a social scientist with the U.S. military.
Thousands of Gulf War veterans who complained of memory and concentration problems, rashes, headaches, and muscle pain following their return from Kuwait and Iraq were suffering from a real illness and weren’t just feeling the aftereffects of combat stress, according to a new congressionally mandated report. The report broke with most earlier studies by concluding that two chemical exposures were direct causes of the disorder: the drug pyridostigmine bromide, given to troops to protect against nerve gas, and pesticides that were used — and often overused — to protect against sand flies and other pests [Los Angeles Times].
One-quarter of the 700,000 U.S. troops who took part in Operation Desert Storm have reported symptoms of Gulf War Syndrome, according to the report, which fails to identify any cure for the malady. It also notes that few veterans afflicted with Gulf War illness have recovered over time [CNN]. The report calls for at least $60 million in new federally funded research on the syndrome and potential treatments.