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HEIDELBERG, Germany — Here’s the good news on the medical front: Returning soldiers won’t be subjected to nearly as many pokes, pricks and prods as they were when they left for the combat zone a year ago.

“It will be much easier for soldiers on their way back,” said Sgt. 1st Class Kasey Schnitker, who helps manage the medical reintegration for troops returning to Heidelberg.

With anthrax and smallpox shots behind them, along with a slew of other vaccinations, most returning troops should expect only two shots. One is a tuberculosis test, the other a blood sample that will be used to screen for HIV and then be put into long-term storage.

Army officials say there have been no known cases of TB reported among troops returning from Iraq but want to test everyone coming just to be on the safe side.

Better safe than sorry is also the idea behind the long-term blood storage. Medical experts are still trying to decode what caused thousands of veterans from the 1991 war with Iraq to contract what has become known as Gulf War syndrome, a mysterious cocktail of ailments that emerged years after troops returned.

By storing blood from every returning soldier from this war, “if something happens later, we’ll have a baseline,” said Col. Casey Jones, a senior administrator for the Army’s European Regional Medical Command.

Meanwhile, said Jones, the Heidelberg hospital has added extra staff to handle the influx of troops banged up by the rigors of a war zone.

“We’re expecting a lot of sprains and strains,” Jones told a gathering of spouses in Heidelberg on Tuesday.

While returning troops take priority for medical care, he said, “we haven’t lost sight of the fact that we still have to take care of everyone else.”


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