Zinc Oxide Nanoparticles Cure Military Cadets’ Famously Stinky Feet

pitted keratolysis is a major cause of foot odor among Thai naval cadets. Image: Bayhu19/Shutterstock.com

Being in the military brings a whole gamut of risks, with foot odor being one of the more common afflictions experienced by those in the forces. In an attempt to stamp out the pong emanating from cadets’ feet, the Royal Thai Airforce has been issuing socks coated in zinc oxide nanoparticles, and the results have been refreshingly pleasant.

The as yet unpublished research was presented at the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology (EADV) Congress, which was held online from October 29 to 31, 2020. The study authors explained how almost 40 percent of Thai naval cadets develop foot lesions, with a bacterial infection called pitted keratolysis being among the most prevalent.

Caused by bacteria that erode the keratin on the sole of the foot, pitted keratolysis is characterized by the appearance of small pot-marks and a distinctive cheesy smell. Given that zinc oxide nanoparticles have already been demonstrated to possess antibacterial properties, the researchers decided to test their efficacy at treating this fetid condition.

A total of 148 naval cadets were assigned to a two-week training course, half of whom were supplied with nanoparticle-covered socks for the duration of the exercise. Foot odor levels were evaluated at the beginning and end of the trial, with results showing a decrease in pungency among those with treated socks by the end of the course. In contrast, cadets that were not supplied with the special footwear saw no such change in their foot fragrancy.

To ensure the robustness of this finding, cadets were instructed to wear their assigned socks for a minimum of eight hours a day throughout the two-week study period and were explicitly instructed not to use any type of deodorant on their feet.

More significantly, only 15.7 percent of the cadets that wore the nanoparticle-infused socks went on to develop pitted keratolysis during the exercise, compared to 40.5 percent of those that wore regular socks.

Explaining the motivation behind this somewhat stinky study, lead author Dr Punyawee Ongsri revealed in a statement that "While completing an internship as a naval officer in the medical department, I saw a high number of foot infections in military personnel. I wanted to find a way to prevent and treat these fungal and bacterial infections and those conditions associated."

"These socks could provide a new primary prevention option for both military personnel and those susceptible to these embarrassing and unpleasant conditions. We are continuing our research with other textiles and hope to treat and prevent the growth of bacterial and fungal infections."

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