British Army doctors undertake diarrhoea prevention trial in Kenya

Members of the Irish Guards currently on Exercise ASAKRI STORM in Kenya have volunteered to participate in a clinical trial that British Army doctors believe could dramatically reduce the prevalence of diarrhoea and vomiting (D&V) amongst deployed troops.

Working in conjunction with US military counterparts, Major Dan Burns, a Royal Army Medical Corps Infectious Disease Registrar, is hoping to find a prophylaxis treatment that when prescribed would all but eliminate the occurrence of the illness.

We are trying to develop a new tool to prevent diarrhoea in military populations Major Dan Burns

Major Dan Burns said: “We are trying to develop a new tool to prevent diarrhoea in military populations by giving them an antibiotic, much in the same way you take a malaria prophylaxis.”

It is estimated that 40% of all troops deployed to Afghanistan during Operation HERRICK developed D&V at some point. Therefore, at any one time there were 100 soldiers combat ineffective through illness, with another 100 underperforming.

This is not the British Army’s first research trial around the subject, as in 2015 it contributed to the discovery that a one-off prescription of certain antibiotics could reduce the average recover time of the illness from 72 to 24 hours.

This latest trial will build on this previous research. Similar civilian trials have indicated that prophylaxis treatments could reduce instances of D&V by up to 66%, and it is hoped that similar results will be observed in Kenya. 

This treatment could have significant implications on maintaining combat effectiveness, being particularly beneficial to those operating in remote locations with limited access to medical treatment.

Volunteers from the Irish Guards battlegroup will be randomly assigned into one of three research groups. Two of the groups will be prescribed different combinations of antibiotics, with the third receiving a placebo. All will provide blood and stool samples at the beginning and end of the exercise to measure the effectiveness of the drugs.

If this treatment is found to be beneficial, Medical Officers will then conduct a cost-benefit analysis to decide when this prophylaxis would be prescribed.

Major Dan Burns said: “If you can imagine being in a small team, perhaps in a Short-Term Training Team in West Africa, even if two of your team of 12 go down it can have a really big impact on your combat effectiveness and how you do your job. Therefore, we want to try and develop new tools to try and prevent that.”