Scientists find link in Iraq pneumonia cases
August 27, 2003
ARLINGTON, Va. — Scientists have marked a trend in some patients who have suffered serious bouts with pneumonia recently while deployed to Iraq and the region, but have yet to determine the cause of the illness.
Ten of the 19 cases deemed “serious” have shown a higher than usual number of a white blood cell type called eosinophils.
Eosinophils are commonly produced by the body when fighting any type of infection or when a person suffers from asthma, hay fever or other types of allergies.
“They still don’t know the cause, but they’ve seen a branching among the cases for the first time,” said Lyn Kukral, a spokeswoman for the Army’s Surgeon General’s office. “But the cause in the 10 cases could be the same, or could be 10 different causes. They’re still investigating.”
Since March, more than 100 troops serving in Southwest Asia have been afflicted with pneumonia, including 19 servicemembers who suffered such serious bouts they needed to be placed on ventilators. Of those, two died, three remain hospitalized and 14 have recovered and returned to duty, with some of those rejoining their units in the theater, Kukral said.
Two of the 19 also have tested positive for the bacteria streptococcus pneumoniae, the most common cause of the bacterial cases of pneumonia.
Investigators have ruled out chemical or biological weapons as the potential cause, and have indicated that the cases are not linked to severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.
Pneumonia is an infection or inflammation of the lungs in which air sacs fill with liquid and prevents oxygen from reaching the body’s blood supply.
According to posted recommendations on the Army’s health center’s Web site, troops deployed anywhere in the world should practice the following in order to reduce chances of coming down with pneumonia:
• Stay hydrated• Don’t smoke; or at least smoke American cigarettes• Wash hands frequently• Use a cravat or dust mask to reduce dust inhalation• Wet mop when cleaning dust in living and work areas• Seek medical care immediately for fever, chills and cough
The recommended list and other health information can be found on the Internet at: chppm-www.apgea.army.mil.