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Tuesday, August 5

Army rules out some causes for pneumonia among troops in Iraq

By Pam Brogan | GNS

WASHINGTON - Recent serious cases of pneumonia among U.S. soldiers in Iraq and the war region, including two fatalities, were not caused by anthrax, smallpox, severe acute respiratory syndrome or Legionnaires' disease, the Army doctor in charge of preventative medicine said Tuesday.

``We've found no evidence of anthrax, smallpox or any other biological agent,'' said the physician, Col. Robert DeFraites, who works in the Army surgeon general's office.

Fifteen soldiers have been diagnosed with serious pneumonia since March. The two who died are Missouri National Guardsman Spc. Joshua Neusche, 20, of Montreal, Mo., and U.S. Army Sgt. Michael Tosto, 24 of Atlantic, N.C., according to stories in the Chicago Tribune and the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader. Dr. David Tornberg, assistant secretary of defense for clinical and program policy, said one of the two soldiers died in Iraq.

DeFraites said the cause of death in each case is still being studied and pathology reports could be available as early as Aug. 12.

A six-member Army medical team is expected to arrive in Iraq on Wednesday to investigate how the soldiers became sick and why two died. Two physicians are reviewing the cases at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

"There's no evidence that this is spread from one person to another,'' DeFraites said. ``It does seem to be sporadic in nature.''

DeFraites said the Army had 17 cases of fatal pneumonia over a five-year period ending in 2002.

``So two occurring in one area of the world in about a month was enough to cause us concern,'' he said.

The 15 soldiers who were the sickest - 14 men and one woman - required a respirator to breathe. They are among about 100 soldiers who have been hospitalized in Southwest Asia with pneumonia since March. Ten of the 15 cases occurred in Iraq. Other cases occurred in Kuwait, Qatar and Uzbekistan, DeFraites said.

The Army has determined that two of the 15 severest cases were streptococcal pneumonia, which is caused by a common bacterium.

DeFraites said environmental factors also cause pneumonia. He also said the Army's investigation is focusing on dust, metals and smoke, including tobacco smoke.