Attrition: October 10, 2003



United Press International has been investigating a fatal health trend among U.S. soldiers in Operation Iraqi Freedom. While the Pentagon told families that blood clots caused two soldiers to collapse and die, at least eight other soldiers have also collapsed and died from what the military has described as "non-combat-related causes". However, other soldiers have fallen ill or died from similar ailments in the United States. Some of the soldiers who died suddenly complained about the same symptoms suffered by NBC News Correspondent David Bloom (including pain in the legs that could indicate problems with blood clots). 

These fatal blood clots might be related to the Pentagon's investigation of what it says is a mysterious pneumonia cluster that has sickened around 100 soldiers deployed across Southwest Asia. They consider this disease clearly rare and possibly new. 

Since early March, about 100 soldiers deployed to the Persian Gulf region and Central Asia contracted pneumonia. About 30 have been ill enough to be sent to hospitals in Europe or the United States. Of those, 19 "crashed" within hours of getting sick, not responding to antibiotics and requiring mechanical ventilators to breathe for them. Two died. 

The 19 (18 men and one woman) had a variety of military occupations and were stationed across 2,600 miles, from Djibouti in the Horn of Africa to Uzbekistan in Central Asia, though most were in Iraq. Only two were in the same unit, and they became ill six months apart. 

On July 17, the Army Surgeon General launched an investigation - five days after a second soldier died of multi-organ failure at the military hospital in Landstuhl. So the investigation is focused on serious cases of illness that occurred between March 1 and August 31 among military personnel deployed and reporting to CENTCOM (which includes the Horn of Africa, South and Central Asia and the Northern Red Sea regions, as well as the Arabian Peninsula and Iraq). 

However, the military's medical investigators might not be searching a wide enough population. Some of the soldiers were deployed to Iraq and died from pneumonia-like illnesses and breathing problems are apparently not part of the Pentagon's investigation. Critics point out that by ignoring cases from troops stationed in places like Turkey might skew any conclusions the investigators might make. 

Some (if not all) of the sickened troops and families of victims have noted that the troops came down with their symptoms after getting Anthrax shots. Pentagon health officials said a statistical analysis essentially has ruled out vaccines and that the role of smoking has emerged as a leading factor instead, since several of the soldiers were (or had taken up) smoking during their deployments. Others who fell ill had quit smoking long before the war.

Overall, the incidences of pneumonia in deployed troops has been in line with what can be expected, but the number of severe cases is unusual. Also unusual is that 10 of the 19 showed proliferation of uncommon immune system cells called eosinophils. Eosinophils accumulate wherever allergic reactions (like those in asthma) take place. Their natural role is to defend the body against parasites, by releasing toxins. These toxins are very efficient, but unfortunately will also harm humans if released in the wrong place. - Adam Geibel 

CDC on Eosinophils cases in OIF:





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