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Army refutes claims of massive parasite outbreak at Fort Knox

Army officials are refuting social media rumors suggesting that potentially hundreds of soldiers have contracted pinworms while training in Kentucky.

Several soldiers, all members of the Indiana National Guard's 76th Brigade Combat Team, have reported finding worms in their stool, Kyle Hodges, a Fort Knox spokesman, told Army Times on Wednesday. However, "we've been testing these soldiers at Ireland Army Community Hospital, and they have not confirmed a single diagnosis."

Pinworms are small parasites that can live in a person's colon and rectum, in some cases causing intense itching and discomfort. Others infected with pinworms present no symptoms at all. 

The issue surfaced last week when two soldiers went to the emergency room with concerns about pinworm, said Dr. James Stephens, a medical consultant for preventive medicine at Ireland Army Community Hospital. One of the soldiers brought with him a stool sample, which tested negative, Stephens said.

Since then, eight other soldiers brought in samples to be tested; just one sample was properly collected, Stephens said. At the same time, three or four other soldiers "presented to a clinic in Indiana" for testing, he said. All of the tests - in Kentucky and Indiana - came back negative, Stephens said. 

"The only thing that we have found so far was someone brought in a baggie with four little tiny, white worms, with no stool sample," he said. "We don't know who brought it or where it came from, and the four worms looked more to be fly larvae rather than pinworms."

The presumed fly larvae have been sent for further testing, Stephens said, "just to be sure." Fly larvae, or maggots, on food can cause intestinal myiasis, which can cause abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea in some cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Other patients may show no symptoms at all.

"We've heard all these soldiers have been diagnosed with [pinworm], but we haven't seen but eight people come in, and we have no confirmed cases as of yet," Stephens said.

Maj. Ben Tooley, a spokesman for the Indiana Guard, confirmed what Hodges and Stephens said.

"There's no pinworm issue going around," he said. "None of [the soldiers] had symptoms associated with pinworms or hook worms. There is no mass medical issue or infestation going around."

It's been a hot topic on the popular U.S Army W.T.F! Moments Facebook page. Several soldiers commenting there wrote that they were affected or had heard about dozens of cases of infected soldiers.

"I'm here, this is my unit," one soldier wrote. "I don't know what it is, but I'm s------- worms and I'm not thrilled about it."

The official Fort Knox Facebook page responded to the U.S Army W.T.F! Moments post, saying officials have not discovered any cases of pinworm.

"Diagnoses require microscopic examination, which was not performed initially in the field, and all samples presented to Ireland Army Community Hospital have been negative," officials wrote. "The 'worms' found in the stool of the soldiers in question have been identified … as fly larvae, though the source was unknown. This is a self-limiting condition that requires no actual treatment."

Soldiers online roundly criticized the statement from Fort Knox.

"200+ confirmed cases," one soldier wrote. "I'm here now. It's all true. … Nice try, Fort Knox. You're not fooling any of us."

About 700 soldiers from the 76th BCT's 1st Squadron, 152nd Cavalry Regiment and 1st Battalion, 163rd Field Artillery Regiment arrived July 31 at Fort Knox for three weeks of training, Tooley said.

On Aug. 11, after the initial reports surfaced, some soldiers were given the opportunity to leave the field to shower, clean their clothes and equipment and receive further evaluation, he said. To his knowledge, there were no quarantines, Tooley said.

All soldiers left the field Monday when the training came to an end, he said.

The soldiers will be returning to their home stations over "the next several days," Tooley said.

He added that there were no confirmed cases at Camp Atterbury, Indiana, where the rest of the 76th BCT is training.

"We're working with the preventive medicine folks down at Fort Knox as well as unit leadership and state leadership of the Indiana National Guard to determine the root issue of these reports," Tooley said.

Patients get pinworms when they swallow pinworm eggs, which then hatch in the person's intestines, according to Medline Plus, a National Institutes of Health website. Female pinworms leave the intestines through the anus while the patient is sleeping and lay eggs on nearby skin, causing pinworms to spread easily. And while it takes one to two months or longer for an adult female to mature in the small intestine, pinworm eggs can live on household surfaces for up to two weeks.

Stephens said the proper way to test for pinworms is to use what's called the Scotch tape test. 

"Pinworms live in the gut, and while you are sleeping, they will exit the anus and lay eggs around the rectum," Stephens said. "You have to either directly observe them at, say, 1 o'clock in the morning, or you collect the worm or the egg by dabbing the area with Scotch tape and sending that to a lab."

Pinworm infections cause itching around the anus, which can lead to difficulty sleeping and restlessness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The infection is most common among school-aged children and household members or caretakers of infected persons.

Infections can be treated with prescription or over-the-counter medications, according to the CDC. The organization also recommends proper handwashing, maintaining clean and short fingernails, daily morning bathing, and careful handling and frequent changing of underclothing, night clothes, towels and bedding to help reduce infection and reinfection.

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