Army Sends Teams to Probe Iraq Illness

Associated Press Writer

August 1, 2003, 12:40 PM EDT

WASHINGTON -- The Army is trying to figure out what is causing a rash of serious pneumonia cases, including two fatalities, among soldiers serving in Iraq.

A six-person team of specialists was en route to Iraq Friday to investigate 14 cases of pneumonia serious enough that the soldiers had to be put on ventilators to breathe and evacuated from the region, the Army Surgeon General's office said Friday.

Two soldiers died, nine recovered and three were still hospitalized as of Thursday, spokeswoman Lyn Kukral said.

The team on its way to Iraq includes infectious disease experts, laboratory officers and people who will take samples of soil, water and air.

So far, officials have identified no infectious agent common to all the cases. There is no evidence any of the cases were caused by exposure to chemical or biological weapons, environmental toxins or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), officials said.

A two-person team already has gone to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where most of the cases were treated after evacuation. The two teams also will review patient records and laboratory results and interview health care workers and patients, if possible, said a statement from the Army Surgeon General and U.S. Army Medical Command.

The teams will be looking for similarities among the cases, which so far have hit troops in geographically dispersed areas and from different units, said the Thursday statement. They also were spread over time, with two in March, three in April, two in May, three in June and four in July.

Though only 14 cases were considered serious, there have been 100 cases altogether since March 1 among troops that began deploying late last years to the Persian Gulf.

Army-wide, pneumonia cases serious enough to warrant hospitalization happen in about 9 of 10,000 soldiers per year. Given the number of troops deployed, the 100 cases "do not exceed expectations," the surgeon general's office said.

Copyright 2003, The Associated Press

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