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Public Health office ensures sanitation, provides education, information to Tent City

By Senior Airman C. Todd Lopez

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey (Sept. 14, 2001) -- For most residents on rotation here as part of Operation Northern Watch, the tent city at the far end of the installation is not a bad place to live.

While turning a five-man temper tent into a home is left to the discretion of the occupants, the Public Health office is left to ensure infrastructure and common areas in the tent city meet military sanitation and health standards and to make sure residents are informed on local health issues.

Edip Kabaharnup, a public health technician with the 39th Public Health office, is assigned to work public health issues in Tent City.

"My general purpose is to keep the Tent City area clean, sanitized and free of insects," said Kabaharnup. "I provide sanitary inspections for the public facilities such as the latrines, showers and kitchen areas."

To ensure healthy air in the tents, the office monitors tent ventilation systems. "By request of the flight surgeon, we do an inspection inside the tents; especially in the air circulation ducts to monitor for dust, mold or mildew growth," said Kabaharnup.

In the past, there have been problems with mold and mildew in tent ventilation systems. This buildup was causing upper respiratory infections in tent residents.

In addition to the standard sanitary inspections, the Public Health office monitors and controls insect populations and their habitats in Tent City.

"I monitor the tent areas for grass, vegetation and insect population," said Kabaharnup.

By reducing vegetation, weeds and grasses around the tent areas, the Public Health office has made great strides in improving the health and quality of life for Tent City residents.

"When we took the grass out of the area, we reduced the insects by some 90 percent," said Kabaharnup. "We had seen a lot of insect bites in the May-July time frame. By getting rid of the vegetation, we got rid of the insects as well as the snakes."

Kabaharnup said snakes in the region are mostly harmless grass or house snakes, but there are some poisonous snakes in the area, including the viper. The Public Health office recommends reacting as though all snakes are poisonous and to move away from them.

Inspecting Tent City for sanitary violations and ensuring the area is pest free are not the only duties of the Public Health office. The office also provides information for newly arrived troops about local health issues.

Tech. Sgt. Brian Jacob, ONW Public Health office, deployed from Wilford Hall Medical Center, Lackland Air Force Base, explains. "The biggest thing we have that would cover almost all of the questions about local food safety concerns is common sense. Hot food must be hot. If it's hot enough for you to blow on before you eat it, then it's hot enough to kill most of the types of bacteria that could lead to a food-borne illness. Cold foods must be cold. If you go to a restaurant and you order 'plate x' and it comes to you and it's lukewarm, then you have the right to take that back and say this is not hot enough [or cold enough.]"

According to Air Force food handling directives, proper temperature for food is either above 140 degrees or below 41 degrees. Foods left between 41 and 140 degrees for longer than four hours are at prime growth conditions for bacteria.

"You find these bacteria all over," said Jacob. "But food handling practices are different here than in other places. We are not used to that. When we get to a different part of the world where the food handling practices are different, our body has to adjust. Most of the time that means your body responds with gastro-intestinal problems. Once your body gets used to it, then those problems will go away."

For those with questions or concerns, stop by the CTF clinic near the morale tent in Tent City. The clinic is open 9 to 11 a.m. on flying days and 3 to 5 p.m. every day. The clinic is considering expanding it's hours in the future. For severe cases, the emergency room at the 39th Medical Group is open 24 hours a day; their number is 6-6666.