Is the anthrax vaccine behind the recent surge in pneumonia cases among active-duty American troops, including two which led to the deaths of soldiers serving in Iraq?

One medical professor thinks the United States Army should and will consider that question in its investigation.

“As physicians, I would think they would be looking at all possible causes. I would think vaccines would be part of that,” Dr. John Sever of George Washington University Medical School told United Press International.

Sever was one of six authors of a government-sponsored study published in May 2002 that found the vaccine was the “possible or probable” cause of pneumonia in two soldiers.

As part of the Anthrax Vaccine Expert Committee convened by the Department of Health and Human Services last year, Sever studied 602 reports of possible reactions to the vaccine. The reports were provided by the U.S. military to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention after the vaccine was administered to nearly 400,000 soldiers.

The Department of Defense is investigating about 100 cases of pneumonia among soldiers in Iraq and throughout the Southwest Asia region that have developed since March. Fifteen of the cases were severe enough to warrant ventilators. Two of those died – one man and one woman – in June and July.

Soldiers of the 115th Military Police Company prepare to enter an Iraqi house believed to be the site of a weapons cache in Fallujah.

All the severe cases are from different military units. Ten occurred in Iraq and the remainder occurred as far away as Uzbekistan and Qatar.

“We’re deeply concerned about the deaths. We’d like a comprehensive understanding to be available to the families, to the husbands, to the wives of our servicemen so they better understand the nature of these conditions. And we’d like to assure you that we’re sparing no effort to further analyze and diagnose the nature of this condition,” Dr. David Tornberg, the deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Clinical and Program Policy, told reporters at a press briefing yesterday.

The Army Surgeon General dispatched two epidemiological-consultation teams to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and Iraq to primarily study the 15 serious cases. The EPICON teams will try to determine the cause and learn how to prevent new cases, which continue to crop up. The last confirmed case was reported July 30. Two additional cases, if confirmed, would bring the total to 102.

So far investigators identified the bacterium streptococcus, a common cause of pneumonia, in two of the cases. The cause of the other 13, including those that resulted in death, remains a mystery.

Army Col. Robert DeFraites briefs reporters on mystery pneumonia cases diagnosed among U.S. troops.

Colonel Robert DeFraites from the Office of the Army Surgeon General said it is still unknown whether the cause is infectious – due to bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi – or non-infectious and resulting from environmental conditions such as dusts, metals or smoke.

DeFraites said investigators have found no evidence of anthrax, smallpox or any other biological weapons and are “pretty close” to ruling that out. Several of the cases tested negative for SARS, or the coronavirus, so officials don’t think it’s playing a role. Investigators reached the same conclusion about the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ Disease.

Fuzzy math

According to DeFraites, the pneumonia probe began at the time of the first death in June.

As UPI first reported, with its focus on pneumonia cases among deployed troops in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, the Army is excluding the April 4 death of 22-year-old Army specialist Rachael Lacy of Lynwood, Ill. Lacy died at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., from what one doctor diagnosed as pneumonia. Lacy received anthrax and smallpox vaccinations but wasn’t deployed.

Lacy’s father told the Army Times his daughter had called in March and said she had chest pains and breathing problems and had been diagnosed with pneumonia.

Minnesota coroner Eric Pfeifer told the paper the smallpox and anthrax vaccines “may have” contributed to her death.

“It’s just very suspicious in my mind,” Pfeifer said. “She’s healthy, gets the vaccinations and then dies a couple weeks later.”

According to the paper, Pfeifer listed “post-vaccine” problems on the death certificate.

When asked at the press briefing if there were any other deaths due to pneumonia in the Army this year, DeFraites responded he was “not aware of any,” but qualified his answer saying the determination of cause of death based on pathology examinations and toxicology takes a long time.

UPI reports Lacy’s reported adverse reaction to the vaccine may not be rare. A service member who was deployed to Kuwait and received the four-shot anthrax series said he subsequently developed bronchitis, a severe cough and nearly came down with pneumonia. He estimated about a fifth of the troops he was deployed with suffered similar symptoms and were prescribed medicine to treat them.

Gulf War Syndrome II?

WorldNetDaily has reported British soldiers filed suit against the Ministry of Defense to seek justice for “vaccine overload.”

They’re convinced the set of vaccinations they received before shipping out to Iraq last Spring are behind the depression, breathing problems and eczema they’re suffering from.

“We are expecting at least 6,000 new cases as a result of the Iraq conflict – about 30 percent of the 22,000 troops who had the anthrax vaccination,” Tony Flint of the National Gulf Veterans and Families’ Association told the Evening Standard.

“The symptoms that these four individuals are experiencing are identical to those of the individuals I represent in relation to the first Gulf war,” noted Mark McGhee, the four soldiers’ attorney.

The paper reported 45,000 personnel in the British military refused to be given the anthrax vaccine.

As previously reported by WND, hundreds of U.S. military personnel refused the mandatory anthrax inoculation. This after some 100,000 Persian Gulf War veterans got sick with a still-unexplained syndrome many suspect has to do with vaccines they were given and the possible exposure to chemical or biological agents.

In June, the British High Court ruled Gulf War Syndrome can be officially recognized in the law.

Army officials were asked at yesterday’s briefing to compare the mystery pneumonia to the rampant illness reported following the Persian Gulf War.

“We’ve taken this problem as it presented itself, as a pneumonia problem. And as such, there really was no precedent in the Gulf War,” DeFraites responded. “I would say, though, in general, I think we’re better postured to recognize these problems earlier and respond in a timely way.”

Scope of problem

DeFraites offered statistics to put the recent cluster of pneumonia cases into perspective. He said there are 400 – 500 cases among deployed troops in the Army worldwide every year.

“That number [of cases confirmed since March 1] of about a hundred is about … the amount that one might expect in a population of troops deployed,” he said., “That’s fairly standard. And surprising as it may seem, otherwise young, healthy adults still do get pneumonia in the Army.”

In terms of deaths due to complications of pneumonia, DeFraites said the Army had 17 cases over a five-year period ending Dec. 31, 2002.

“So if you do the division, it comes out to about three a year. So two occurring in one area of the world in about a month was enough to cause us concern,” he said.

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