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Pentagon warns servicemembers of dangers of flea, tick collars

Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample , American Forces Press Service

          WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Pentagon is, once again, advising servicemembers that flea and tick collars work great on pets, but not on humans.

      And officials at the Armed Forces Pest Management Board (AFPMB) said good-intentioned citizens and family members should not include the collars in care packages to troops.

      Responding to reports that people as well as organizations are sending pet collars to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, Army Maj. Dwight Rickard, contingency liaison officer for the board, said an AFPMB memorandum issued in early April warns of the dangers involved.

      "The fact that some organizations with good intentions were doing this concerned us," Rickard said.  "But the fact is that flea and tick collars are not approved for humans and in fact are quite detrimental to the skin.  Our skin is different from that of dogs, and the pesticides tend to burn our skin," he explained.

      There is also potential to absorb pesticides into the skin, which "as you can imagine, is not healthy," he added.

      Flea and tick collars contain the pesticides organophosphates, carbamates, pyrethroids and organochloride.

      The Environmental Protection Agency states these chemicals may produce adverse effects and they have not been tested for human use.

      Back in September 1990, the Army's Health Services Command had released a message warning that prolonged exposure to the collars could produce toxic effects in humans.

      Shortly thereafter, post and base exchange stores put up signs to warn of the dangers.

      In 1999, the Rand Corp., a research firm, surveyed thousands of Persian Gulf War veterans on their use of pesticides in that war as the Defense Department searched for possible links to illnesses in Gulf War veterans.   The survey did not provide definite evidence of a link to Gulf War illness, but a number of veterans had reported using pet flea and tick collars to protect themselves against insects.

      From the survey data, about 3 percent of Army and Marine Corps/Navy personnel and about 1 percent of Air Force personnel among the almost 470,000 serving in the Gulf are estimated to have used animal flea and tick collars.  The survey stated that most veterans who used flea collars wore them over their clothes or shoes, which helped minimize exposure to the active ingredient.

      However, Rickard said the best way to protect against fleas and ticks is to use measures found in AFPMB Technical Guide-36, entitled "Personal Protective Measures Against Insects." 

      The guide describes Department of Defense's (DoD)  insect repellant system and other techniques to ward off flea, tick and chigger attack.

      Rickard emphasized that the collars work very well on dogs, but hardly at all on humans.

      "If you put them on a humans, the fleas and ticks won't go near the collar, but they will go everywhere else," he said.

       To learn more about the DoD insect repellant system, visit the pest management board's Web site at  http://www.afpmb.org.

      For more information about military medical issues at Fort McCoy, call the Troop Medical Clinic at (608) 388-3025.

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