As if they didn’t suffer enough, it seems that several Vietnam Vets could have cancer causing parasites called liver flukes. This is according to some new research. A recent evaluation from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has discovered that from some 50 blood samples that had been submitted to them from veterans of the Vietnam War, over 20% of them were tested positive for having antibodies against liver flukes, as reported by the Associated Press.
Symptoms are Not Obvious
These findings actually mean that many of these Vietnam veterans could have what is called “silent” infections from this parasite. This means that they do not have symptoms at all. But it should be noted that these results are only preliminary, and it is still the potential that not every one of these veterans that tested positive will really have this parasite, the scientists stressed. However, these results were still very surprising, as stated by a researcher of the study named Sung-Tae Hong, who comes from Seoul National University in South Korea.
What Are Liver Flukes?
Liver flukes are parasitic worms that are small and flat which could infect the liver, the gallbladder and also the bile ducts. People become vulnerable to this infection whenever they consume raw or undercooked freshwater fish which contain these parasites, as advised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Even though a liver fluke infection is very rare in the US, it is estimated that some 35 million humans worldwide are afflicted with these parasites at any given time. The majority of these cases occur in Asia and in Eastern Europe.
There are actually three primary kinds of liver flukes that induce infections in humans: there is the Clonorchis sinensis, which exists within the rural portions of China and Korea; and there is the Opisthorchiasis viverrini, which exists within Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia; and finally there is the Opisthorchis felineus, which lives in a wider geographical area than the other two kinds, this one is found in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and even Siberia, as reported by the World Health Organization.
Most humans who are infected with these liver flukes experience no symptoms, while others report ailments like indigestion, abdominal pain, diarrhea and even constipation. But if they are infected over a long period of time, liver fluke infections can often cause chronic inflammation within the bile ducts, which results in duct scars and the destruction of liver cells. This scarring and inflammation can eventually cause within the bile ducts, and this is referred to as cholangiocarcinoma.
This kind of cancer is extremely rare within the Western countries, as only around 7 cases per every million people are reported. In the US, there is an estimated number of about 8,000 people who are diagnosed with bile duct cancer annually – as reported by the American Cancer Society.
The cancer’s symptoms often include jaundice (or yellowing in the skin), pains within the abdomen, dark urine, high fever, skin that is itchy skin, excessive vomiting and weight loss that is unexplained. For those who are in the early stages of bile-duct cancer, around 15-30% will survive for at least 5 years after the diagnosis. But if this cancer spreads to distant parts of their bodies, this 5 year survival rate become only 2%.
“We are taking this seriously,” said Curt Cashour, who is a spokesperson from the VA. “But until further research [is done], a recommendation cannot be made either way.”