The Army surgeon general has deployed two teams of
epidemiologists to investigate about 100 cases of pneumonia that
have occurred among deployed troops since March 1. Two soldiers
have died, and 13 others have been so severely affected that they
have required ventilators to breathe.
The teams were dispatched to the Middle East, where most of the
illnesses have developed, and to the Landstuhl Regional Medical
Center in Germany, where most of the seriously ill troops are
being treated. Defense officials say there is currently no
evidence to indicate the illnesses are the result of bioterrorism.
Col. Robert DeFraites, the senior preventive medicine officer
in the Office of the Army Surgeon General, said the illnesses may
not be an anomaly—the Army typically experiences between 400 and
500 cases of pneumonia every year, and in the last five years, 17
soldiers have died from complications of pneumonia. Because so
many troops are deployed to the Middle East, it is not surprising
that so many cases of the illness are originating there, he said.
In a briefing for reporters at the Pentagon, DeFraites said
that at this point, there is no clear pattern to the illnesses,
and there is no indication that any of the cases were spread from
one person to another. “We are sufficiently concerned about
especially the more severe pneumonias that the epidemiological
consultation was warranted,” he said.
There are basically two types of pneumonia: illness that
results from infectious causes, such as bacteria, viruses,
parasites and fungi; and illness caused by environmental
conditions, such as dust, metals or smoke, DeFraites said. So far,
investigators have found that bacteria was the cause of two
illnesses. The cause of pneumonia in the two deaths is still under
investigation. The goal of the epidemiologists will be to
determine if there are any patterns to the cases, and to assess
the effectiveness of medical treatment.
“We're approaching this from a prevention and treatment focus
to see if there is some way we can intervene to protect the health
of the troops and then to treat them better,” DeFraites said.