Antimicrobial fabrics can help soldiers in the field fend off fungus and battle body odor. But it can be tricky to track the gear's use and effectiveness — soldiers aren't exactly rushing to admit such problems, despite the silent prayers of their battle buddies.
An online survey developed by Army researchers at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center gives soldiers a chance to share their less-than-pleasant field hygiene experiences anonymously, and it could help determine which antimicrobial products are developed or purchased from outside vendors for Army use.
What you, and your nose, need to know:
1. The dirty details. Survey-takers are asked which types of antimicrobial materials they use — everything from socks and boxer shorts to body wash and household cleaners — where they use them and what benefits they expect from them. They're also asked whether they've suffered from conditions such as body odor, foot odor, jock itch and athlete's foot, and how they've addressed such issues.
2. Who's sniffing around? "We're hoping this survey will help direct our efforts," said Steve Arcidiacono, a microbiologist with NSRDEC's Biological Science and Technology Team. "It's been an issue that we don't really have good numbers. ... This is really the first step to try to identify hygiene issues that we need to address."
It's the first survey of its kind on the issue, Arcidiacono said, and researchers hope it will cover a wider swath of soldiers than typical on-site polling. It's been put together by NSRDEC's Consumer Research Team: "The connection between the field and the lab," said Wendy Johnson, research psychologist and CRT member.
3. Better feedback. Natick has developed everything from socks to sleeping bag liners with antimicrobial additives — silver may be the most well-known, but copper also can be effective, as can certain chemical compounds. But without a clear vision of how this gear gets used, it's tough to know whether the research is going in the right direction.
"Currently, the Army does not have a requirement for antimicrobials on any textiles," Arcidiacono said. "So part of why we're trying to identify the magnitude of the problem is to try and generate, if needed, a specific requirement for antimicrobial treatment in whatever the textile item might be"
4. Beyond B.O. Skin and odor problems may be low on the list of worries for a soldier in a field environment where a shower and laundry service aren't available, but hygiene concerns aren't limited to superficial symptoms. The survey asks, for example, whether skin conditions or body odor have prevented a good night's sleep, or if skin irritation has made parts of a soldier's job painful or problematic.
"We want to ultimately look at operational impact, if any," Arcidiacono said. For quality-of-life [issues], it'll be interesting to see what sort of responses we get."
5 No sweat. The survey tops out at 14 questions, not including demographic details such as gender, time in service, brief deployment history, and so on. The entire process takes about 10 minutes.
Individuals on Army networks can access the survey at https://surveys2.natick.army.mil/Surveys/antimic.nsf. Johnson said work is ongoing to make the site available outside the network, and that the survey should be live at least through the first week of December.
Kevin Lilley is the features editor of Military Times.