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[casi] Iraq pneumonia toll

Mystery pneumonia toll may be much higher
By Mark Benjamin
UPI Investigations Editor
Published 9/16/2003 2:45 PM

WASHINGTON, Sept. 16 (UPI) -- Mysterious pneumonia-like illnesses and
breathing problems appear to be striking U.S. troops in greater numbers than
the military has identified in an investigation -- including more deaths,
according to soldiers and their families.

Some of the soldiers were deployed to Iraq and died but are not part of the
Pentagon's investigation. Others who got ill told United Press International
they suffered a pneumonia-like illness after being given vaccines,
particularly the anthrax shot.

The Pentagon said it is committed to the health of military personnel and
that some dead or ill soldiers do not meet criteria for the investigation.
Pentagon health officials said a statistical analysis essentially has ruled
out vaccines and that the role of smoking has emerged as a leading factor

One Air Force staff sergeant who was deployed to Turkey for Operation Iraqi
Freedom told UPI he was hospitalized in Incerlik in March with a
pneumonia-like illness, 10 days after his fourth anthrax shot. He got his
next anthrax shot in August, and 10 days later was hospitalized in
California with what he said was the same pneumonia-like illness.

"They said I had considerable inflammation of the lungs," said Staff Sgt.
Neal B. Erickson Sr., 43, in a telephone interview from Moffett Field south
of San Francisco. "I had severe chest pains, dizziness and shortness of

He said he does not smoke and that doctors thought he had blood clots or a
heart attack. Tests for viruses or bacteria "came back clean," Erickson
said. "They basically labeled it as a type of pneumonia."

He said the military is not recognizing that the shots made him sick and
that he is afraid of getting the next anthrax shot, scheduled in five

"I'm real touchy here. Come a few more months, I'm in line to get another.
It's not like we have a choice in the matter." Military personnel are
required to take the shots and can be court-martialed if they refuse.

Erickson said there are at least four similar cases in his squadron,
including one hospitalization.

The Pentagon is investigating what it says is a mysterious pneumonia cluster
that has sickened around 100 soldiers deployed across Southwest Asia. "I'll
bet I'm not in (the Pentagon's) numbers," Erickson said.

Pentagon health officials repeatedly have emphasized that the number of sick
soldiers in their investigation show there is no "epidemic" among U.S.
troops. They are concentrating on 19 service members who have gotten so sick
they needed ventilators to breathe; two of those died.

"We do not have an epidemic," Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health
Affairs William Winkenwerder Jr. told reporters last week. "The rates of
pneumonia among personnel deployed to Southwest Asia in the past six months
are consistent with what we would have expected, and we have data that
strongly supports that."

The Pentagon has identified two deaths in its investigation: the July 12
death of Army Spc. Joshua M. Neusche, 20; and the June 17 death of Army Sgt.
Michael L. Tosto, 24. Neusche's family wrote Secretary of Defense Donald
Rumsfeld last month seeking an independent investigation of his death.
Tosto's wife, Stephanie, told UPI last month she was frustrated at the lack
of information on her husband's death, but said she thinks vaccines played a

At least two more soldiers deployed to Iraq died with fluid in their lungs,
according to their families; one of those was found dead in his cot. The
Pentagon has not released any information on two more soldiers found dead in
Iraq under similar circumstances. In a fifth case, a 20-year-old died after
what the Pentagon said were "breathing difficulties" and his mother has said
she wants more information.

At least two more soldiers died after experiencing chest pain, including the
Aug. 27 death of 43-year-old Lt. Col Anthony L. Sherman, who competed in
triathlons and marathons. "The only thing they had to tell me was severe
myocardial infarction," said his wife, Lisa Ann, from Pottstown, Pa. "In my
heart of hearts, I believe there was more to it than just a heart attack. He
was in too good of shape."

All of those deaths appear on the Pentagon list of non-combat related
fatalities but were not included in the pneumonia investigation.

The Pentagon said that in its investigation, it has focused on a specific
group of ill soldiers. "Other cases are medically reviewed separately
because it would be scientifically inappropriate to combine the reviews,"
Pentagon medical officials told UPI in a written statement.

The investigation is focused on serious cases of illness that occurred
between March 1 and Aug. 31 among military personnel who were deployed and
who report to the United States Central Command, which includes the Horn of
Africa, South and Central Asia and the Northern Red Sea regions, as well as
the Arabian Peninsula and Iraq. Pentagon investigators are focusing on
soldiers who developed pneumonia in both lungs and were placed on
ventilators to breathe.

Some civilian doctors said those parameters are too narrow and ignore cases
that could help identify the cause.

"I think the military is making a scientific mistake by restricting the
region from which they are collecting these cases," said Dr. Meryl Nass, a
doctor who treats soldiers who say they were harmed by vaccines. "There is
no scientific reason to limit the geographical envelope from which cases are
identified," Nass said. "You want to capture as many cases as possible to
investigate, in order to get a broad outline of all the features of the

Pentagon officials said their statistical analysis shows that vaccinated
military personnel are no more likely to develop pneumonia than unvaccinated
soldiers. Nor are they more likely to develop it soon after getting

"We knew beforehand that the rate of pneumonia in anthrax-vaccinated people
and in anthrax-unvaccinated people were essentially the same, so our
starting point was that this was unlikely," Col. John Grabenstein, deputy
director of the Military Vaccine Office, told reporters.

Pentagon health officials said 10 of the 19 cases they are studying had
eosinophilia, or the presence of a large number of a specific kind of white
blood cell that can indicate an allergic response. Doctors have been unable
to detect any virus or bacteria that might have caused the illness in those

A reaction to a drug might cause eosinophilia, according to the Centers for
Disease Control doctor assisting the military in the investigation, Dr.
Steve Ostroff.

"Obviously, one can have an allergy to a particular type of medication ...
and that is certainly a line of investigation we can't entirely exclude,"
Ostroff told reporters. "There doesn't seem to be any particular type of
unifying treatment that was given to these individuals."

A civilian doctor questioned that logic.

"They keep saying there is no common exposure, but every one of those
soldiers got vaccinated," said Dr. Jeffrey Sartin, an infectious diseases
doctor at the Gundersen Clinic in La Crosse, Wis. "That is one definite
common exposure that should not be dismissed out of hand."

"Statistics by themselves only give you part of the story," said Sartin, a
former Air Force doctor. "They are getting a bird's eye view of the forest
but they are not getting down and looking at the trees."

This spring, Sartin treated Army Spc. Rachel Lacy of Lynwood, Ill., who died
April 4 after a pneumonia-like illness. He and a coroner linked that
soldier's death to either the anthrax or smallpox vaccines she had received
March 2, before falling ill.

Lacy's June 3 death certificate lists vaccines as a possible cause for her
lung damage, heart inflammation "with eosinophils," and "lupus-like
autoimmune disease."

The military, which did not treat her or perform the autopsy, said her death
was likely not due to vaccines.

A number of soldiers who were not deployed said the anthrax vaccine made
them sick.

Army Pvt. Dennis W. Drew, 27, got his first anthrax shot April 24 at Fort
Hood, Texas, in preparation for going to Iraq. He started feeling ill April

"I started getting a real sharp pain in my chest. I had a hard time
breathing and every time I moved, my chest hurt." Drew said. "I checked into
a hospital and I found out I had pneumonia in my left lung and myocarditis,
a swelling of the heart. Basically, my health has been going down hill ever

Drew says he quit smoking four years ago and was in good shape. In addition
to his pneumonia, he said he has since suffered from severe headaches, loss
of peripheral vision and constant colds. "It is like my immune system does
not work anymore," he said. "When I first got to Fort Hood, the doctor there
thought the myocarditis might have been caused by the vaccine."

Drew wrote to Congress about his belief that the vaccine has ruined his life
with his wife and two small children.

"I would invite anyone who doesn't believe in the adverse reaction of the
anthrax vaccine to come spend a day in my home to see first hand what my
family and I go through," Drew wrote to House National Security Subcommittee
Chairman Chris Shays, R-Conn., on Aug. 31. "We are just victims of wanting
to serve our country."

Drew said he knows of three other similar cases at Fort Hood.

Among deaths of soldiers with pneumonia-like symptoms and breathing problems
who served in operation Iraqi Freedom, and are not included in the Pentagon

-- Army Spc. Zeferino E. Colunga, 20, of Bellville, Texas. Colunga died on
Aug. 6 after being evacuated from Iraq to Germany. Colunga's family wrote
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld last month seeking an independent
analysis of his death from "this 'so-called' mystery illness." The family
said Colunga "died at a hospital in Germany after a battle with pneumonia
and a subsequent diagnosis of acute leukemia. We deserve to know why a
healthy young man who was supposedly screened and determined fit for
deployment would suddenly die," the letter says. The military specifically
ruled out Colunga's death as part of the pneumonia cluster.

-- Army Spc. Cory A. Hubbell, 20, of Urbana, Ill. Hubbel died June 26 from
what has been reported as "breathing difficulties," and listed by the
Pentagon as a "non-combat related cause." He died after being hospitalized
at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait. Hubbel's mother, Connie Bickers, told the
Champaign News-Gazette that the Army is not giving her many answers on the

-- Army Spc. Levi B. Kinchen, 21, of Tickfaw, La. Tickfaw died Aug. 9 in
Baghdad. A fellow soldier tried to wake him and noticed he was not
breathing, according to the Pentagon. He was assigned to 2nd Armored Cavalry
Regiment, Fort Polk, La.

-- Army Staff Sergeant Richard S. Eaton Jr., 37, of Guilford, Conn. Eaton
was found dead on the morning of Aug. 12. The military has told the family
that Eaton died of pulmonary edema, or fluid in his lungs, that might have
been heat-related. Eaton's father Richard told UPI he has no reason to doubt
the Army's explanation, but he said he has not received a final report on
his son.

-- Army Pvt. Matthew D. Bush, 20, of East Alton, Ill. Bush died Aug. 8 in
Camp Caldwell, Iraq. A fellow soldier tried to wake him and noticed he was
not breathing, according to the Pentagon. Pentagon officials have indicated
that his death might have been heat-related.

-- Army Staff Sgt. David L. Loyd, 44, of Jackson, Tenn. Loyd died Aug. 5 in
a Kuwaiti hospital after he experienced severe chest pains while on a
mission. He was assigned to the 1175th Transportation Company, Army National
Guard, Brownsville, Tenn.

-- Lt. Col. Anthony L. Sherman, 43, of Pottstown, Pa. Sherman died on Aug.
27 in Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. The Pentagon said Sherman died "as a result of
non-combat related injury (medical)." His wife, Lisa Ann, said the Army told
her Sherman died of "a severe myocardial infarction." She said she was
suspicious because he was a marathon runner. Sherman was assigned to the
304th Civil Affairs Brigade, U.S. Army Reserves, based in Philadelphia, Pa.

-- Army Spc. William A. Jeffries, 39, of Evansville, Ind. Jeffries died
March 31 at a hospital in Spain after becoming sick in Kuwait. A military
official reportedly told Jeffries' family that he suffered a blood clot in
his lung and acute pancreatitis.


Photos are available with this story: FMP2003091601 through -1607.

Copyright  2001-2003 United Press International

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