Hundreds of veterans who served in the Vietnam War may now be dying from a silent killer. According to test results, a slow-working parasite may have infected the soldiers while they were fighting in the jungles.
The Department of Veteran Affairs commissioned a small study this spring to examine the association between liver flukes ingested through raw or undercooked food and a rare cancer of the bile duct. The condition can take decades before symptoms appear. By the time the cancer is diagnosed, patients are already in pain and have a few months left to live, Fox News reports.
Of the 50 blood samples tested, over 20% came back positive or borderline positive for liver fluke antibodies, according to Sung-Tae Hong. Hong is a tropical medicine specialist who led the tests at Seoul National University in South Korea.
It was surprising.
He stressed that the preliminary results they have could include false positives and that research is now ongoing.
Christopher Goodman, Northport VA Medical Center spokesperson, said that the facility in New York collected the samples and sent them. He refrained from comments, but said that the veterans who tested positive have been notified.
Gerry Wiggins, a war veteran who had already lost some friends to the cancer, got the call that he had tested positive. He said, “I was in a state of shock. I didn’t think it would be me.”
Wiggins didn’t have any symptoms when he agreed to give a sample, but had hoped that is participation could help save lives. The 69-year-old scheduled further tests and found that he had two cysts on his bile duct. He had them removed, and is doing well, for now.
The parasites are rarely found in Americans, but infect an estimated 25 million people globally, most of them in Asia. The parasites are endemic to Vietnam, and can be treated with pills early on, but they can live for decades if left untreated. Swelling and inflammation of the bile duct can result in cancer.