Self-reported description of diarrhea among military populations in operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom

J Travel Med. Mar-Apr 2006;13(2):92-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1708-8305.2006.00020.x.


Background: Infectious diarrhea is among the most common medical problems associated with military deployments and has been reported as a frequent problem for troops currently deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Lacking is information describing clinical presentation, risk behaviors, and treatment of travelers' diarrhea in this population.

Methods: An anonymous cross-sectional survey was conducted among 15,459 US military personnel deployed to Southwest Asia during 2003 to 2004.

Results: Overall, diarrhea was commonly reported (76.8% in Iraq and 54.4% in Afghanistan) and was frequently severe (more than six stools/d) (20.8% in Iraq and 14.0% in Afghanistan) or associated with fever (25.8%), vomiting (18% with diarrhea and 16.5% without), persistent symptoms (>14 d, 9.8%), or chronic symptoms (>30 d, 3.3%). Diarrhea was associated with time spent off military compounds and eating local food. Over 80% of respondents sought care for their symptoms, usually at the lowest echelon of care (field medic), and were most often treated with either loperamide or an antibiotic. Self-treatment with loperamide or Pepto-Bismol was also common and successful with only 9% of self-treated individuals reporting seeking further medical care.

Conclusions: Infectious diarrhea is a common problem for US military personnel, and associated fevers and vomiting are more common than in past conflicts in the region. As with past studies, time spent off base and local food consumption, both more common in Iraq than Afghanistan, continue to be the most important risk factors for acquiring diarrhea. The majority of soldiers reported seeking care for diarrhea, but appropriate treatment, including self-treatment with over-the-counter medicines, was generally successful. Further studies should be conducted to evaluate appropriate treatment algorithms, including the use of self-treatment, for deployed military personnel.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Afghanistan / epidemiology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diarrhea / epidemiology*
  • Diarrhea / prevention & control
  • Female
  • Health Status Indicators*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Iraq / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Military Personnel / statistics & numerical data*
  • Self Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States
  • Warfare*