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Diseases That the Soldiers Got During the Vietnam War

Dengue Fever

Dengue fever is another disease that soldiers got during the Vietnam war. After establishing two major dengue serotypes during World War II, more serotypes were established before the beginning of the Vietnam war (Gibbons 623). With more establishment of dengue serotypes, medical professionals also had established deadly characteristics of the disease, for instance, the dengue hemorrhagic fever. After those discoveries, a severe outbreak of dengue fever occurred in 1964 and adversely affected deployed US Air Force soldiers in areas such as Thailand (Gibbons 623). The disease also affected navy marines who were deployed in tropical locations. Moreover, more cases were reported in the following two years up to 1966, most of which were considered from unknown sources. Although the cases continued to increase, most were unreported since, at the time, medical professionals lacked adequate laboratory capabilities to detect all the cases.

Various risk factors were established as major facilitators of the spread of the disease. One of the risk factors is the presence of a damp and swampy environment in the Pacific islands that these soldiers operated (Paltzer 9). This environment created a conducive surrounding for the breeding of mosquitos responsible for the transmission of the disease. Moreover, the craters created from explosions during the war also created an environment for the breeding of mosquitoes that spread the disease since they often collected water that remained stagnant. Moreover, compared to previous wars that had happened, such as World War II, during the Vietnam War, there were fewer casualties of the disease. The spreading of dengue fever affected other populations other than the soldiers in the war; for instance, the Vietnamese population was adversely impacted after the war, especially the children (Gibbons 623).


Another disease that soldiers got during the war was hepatitis, specifically hepatitis C. This virus was not established until 1989 after a series of studies to understand the dynamics of hepatitis. Currently, hepatitis C is understood to be a bloodborne viral infection that mainly attacks the liver leading to liver cirrhosis, an example of scarring an organ (Khuroo and Sofi n.p.). Therefore, it was also established that blood transfusion is one of the major ways to transmit the hepatitis C virus. Hepatitis C affected soldiers during the Vietnam war; however, the impacts are continually being felt years later. Due to the variety of injuries that happened during the Vietnam war, medical procedures such as blood transfusions were conducted to save the soldiers’ lives. Moreover, other soldiers also came into contact with infected blood from carrying injured soldiers trying to save their lives (Khuroo and Sofi n.p.). However, it was unknown to medical professionals at the time that it would have negative outcomes.

Years before the war, a hepatitis outbreak had occurred, especially during World War II, which was often considered the biggest in history (Andrews n.p.). Even after the development of treatment methods and management methods of the disease, the infections continued to increase. This was due to various risk factors that most medical professionals at the time failed to take note of regarding the virus. Since more studies had been conducted to establish the dynamics of the different diseases during that time, the medical researchers had not yet established the hepatitis C virus. However, viruses such as hepatitis B had been established. As a result, it was later established that the blood transfusions conducted facilitated the spread of the virus (Andrews n.p.). Currently, the highest percentage of affected individuals by the hepatitis C virus was part of Vietnam troops.

Bacterial Diarrhea

Similar to other wars in the US’s history, bacterial diarrhea was another major disease that soldiers got. During the war, most of the resources that ensure general cleanliness were not available. Therefore, due to a lack of clean water to drink and clean food to eat, most soldiers succumbed to diarrhea (Roach n.p.). Besides, diarrhea led to the loss of water from the body, which resulted in dehydration, costing various soldiers’ lives. During the Vietnam war, the number of diarrhea cases outnumbered malaria cases, which significantly affected soldiers from performing their assigned duties as required. Moreover, various risk factors facilitated the spread of bacterial diarrhea among soldiers during the war, specifically based on the aspect of poor sanitation among the soldiers.

An excellent example of the risk factors is the high number of people existing in a single location. The US military personnel sent to Vietnam for war exceeded 500,000 in number. Therefore, the locations they occupied were overcrowded with the necessary resources to facilitate good hygiene (Haymond n.p.). As a result, their occupation in these areas posed significant problems since, in most cases, the allocated resources in a location provided for a specific number of individuals. Therefore, since the large numbers of individuals in these locations had needs, such as the need for drinking water, the available resources could not offer (Haymond n.p.). As a result, most soldiers would drink unclean and contaminated water, resulting in bacterial infections leading to diarrhea. Another excellent example of the risk factors is the lack of hygienic ways of managing wastes. In this case, latrines were essential to managing the solid wastes; however, similar to water sources, these resources were not sufficient. As a result, most used the available ground for dumping solid wastes, which resulted in contaminated water sources.


In conclusion, during the Vietnam War, soldiers were infected with various diseases, most of which were fatal. Examples of these diseases include malaria, dengue fever, hepatitis, and bacterial diarrhea. Most of these diseases were classified under tropical conditions since most of those affected had been assigned tropical operation locations. Moreover, during this period, various risk factors facilitated the contraction of some of these diseases, especially bacterial diarrhea. Some of these risk factors include overcrowding of specific locations in the deployment area, which resulted in a shortage of resources such as clean drinking water. Another excellent example of the risk factors is the lack of adequate waste management methods, which facilitated the contamination of food and available water resources.

Works Cited

Andrews, Michelle. “Name of A Vietnam Veteran killed by Hepatitis C added to ‘The Wall’.” National Public Radio.

Gibbons, Robert V., et al. “Dengue and US military operations from the Spanish–American War through today.” Emerging infectious diseases 18.4 (2016): 623.

Haymond, A. John. “The waste of war,” HistoryNet.

Khuroo, Mohammad S., and Ahmad A. Sofi. “The discovery of hepatitis viruses: Agents & disease.” Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hepatology (2020).

Melrose, Wayne D., and Peter A. Leggat. “Acute Lymphatic Filariasis Infection in the United States Armed Forces Personnel Deployed to the Pacific Area of Operations during World War II Provides Important Lessons for Today.” Tropical Medicine and Infectious Disease 5.2 (2020): 63.

Paltzer, Seth. “The other Foe: The US Army’s Fight against Malaria in the Pacific Theater, 1942-1945.” On Point 21.3 (2016): 6-13.

Roach, Mary. “Diarrhea is the wartime enemy no one mentions.” The Cut.

Shanks, G. Dennis. “Malaria-associated mortality in the Australian Defence Force during the twentieth century.” The American journal of tropical medicine and hygiene 97.2 (2017): 544-547.


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