Despite the Obama administration’s ramping down of combat operations in Iraq, 2010 saw the highest number of troops with reported traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) for any year of the U.S. occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan — and more than twice the number of deployment-related amputations seen in 2009, according to a newly-released report by the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center.
2010 saw 7,270 deployed troops hospitalized or treated for TBIs, or about 20 new cases per day, the report shows.
That is more than any other year between 2003 and 2010, and represents a 34 percent jump from 2009′s count of 5,818 soldiers with TBI. Only 2008 came close to matching the 2010 numbers, with 7,263 soldiers with brain injuries during deployment. Between 2003 and 2010, a total of 33,446 soldiers have been hospitalized or treated for TBIs during or within 30 days of deployments, according to the report.
Only raw counts, not incidence rates, were described in the report.
The actual numbers are likely higher than reported, however. Data for 2010 was compiled in January and February 2011, for example, before administrative records for hospitalizations in late 2010 had all been reported. And even though the Pentagon acknowledges TBI symptoms may not emerge, or may not be recognized, until after soldiers return home from combat deployments, the new study only reports TBIs diagnosed during deployment or within 30 days of the end of a soldier’s deployment. Furthermore, a footnote in the report reveals that more than 2,700 soldiers hospitalized or treated for TBI during deployment were excluded from analysis because of pre-deployment histories of TBI.
Only a soldier’s first TBI diagnosis is counted, so the report does not reveal how many soldiers have suffered repeated brain injuries.
Reported brain injuries prior to 2008 are also likely underestimates. During that time, military physicians noted in memos obtained by epiNewswire that reporting of combat injuries was incomplete. And as epiNewswire revealed in 2007, the Army had not yet implemented by that year a long-standing order to screen returning combat veterans for brain injuries.
Last year also saw a dramatic rise in amputations during or within a year of deployment, from 88 amputations in 2009 to 182 in 2010, the report shows. That’s more than any year of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan except 2007, when 205 soldiers underwent deployment-related amputations.
A total of 1,138 soldiers had deployment-associated limb amputations between 2003 and 2010, according to the new report.
The report shows a slight increase in sand fly-vectored leishmaniasis infections (called the “Baghdad boil” by soldiers), from 48 cases in 2009 to 65 cases in 2010. While those numbers likely represent genuine declines from the 622 cases reported in 2003, epiNewswire reported in 2007 that the Army had curtailed field reporting of leishmaniasis infections from Iraq, resulting in underestimations of actual infection rates.
The new report was released March 4, and details the numbers of deployment-associated TBIs, pulmonary emboli and deep-vein thrombosis, amputations, heterotopic ossification (aberrant bone growth following trauma), severe pneumonia, and leishmaniasis between 2003 and 2010.
Source: U.S. Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center. Deployment related conditions of special surveillance interest, U.S. Armed Forces, by month and service, January 2003-January 2011 (data as of 01 March 2011). Medical Surveillance Monthly Report, February 2011;18(2):13. (Report released March 4, 2011.)
Filed Under: Afghanistan • Army • Army Medical Command (MEDCOM) • Epidemiology • Iraq • TBI • U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) • brain • infection • kala-azar • leishmaniasis • military medicine • traumatic brain injury • war