Throughout the history of war, there have been many instances when the cold has ravaged armies more effectively than their enemies. Delineated risk factors are restricted to negro origins, previous cold injury, moderate but not heavy smoking and the possession of blood group O. No attention has been directed to the possibility that abnormal blood constituents could feasibly predispose to the development of local cold injury. This study considers this possibility and investigates the potential contribution of certain components of the circulating blood which might do so. Three groups of soldiers from two of the battalions who served during the war in the Falklands Islands in 1982 were investigated. The risk factors which were sought included the presence or absence of asymptomatic cryoglobulinaemia, abnormal total protein, albumin, individual gamma globulin or complement C3 or C4 levels, plasma hyperviscosity or evidence of chronic alcoholism manifesting as high haemoglobin, PCV, RBC, MCV or gamma glutamyl transpeptidase (GGT).
No cases of cryoglobulinaemia were isolated and there was no haematological evidence to suggest that any of those men who had developed cold injury, one year before this study was performed, had abnormal circulating proteins, plasma hyperviscosity or indicators of alcohol abuse. Individual blood groups were not incriminated as a predisposing factor although the small numbers of negroes in this series fared badly.
Although this investigation has excluded a range of potential risk factors which could contribute to the development of cold injury, the problem persists.
Two areas of further study are needed: the first involves research into the production of better protective clothing in the form of effective cold weather boots and gloves and the second requires the delineation of those dietary and ethnic factors which allow certain communities to adapt successfully to the cold. A review of the literature in this latter area is presented.
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