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Army hunts cause of pneumonia in troops

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FALLS CHURCH, Virginia (CNN) -- The U.S. Army said Monday it has activated two medical teams to help investigators determine what has caused about 100 cases of pneumonia -- two of them fatal -- among service members in the Persian Gulf since March 1.

A team of two doctors, an epidemiologist and an infectious disease specialist is at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where most of the patients have been treated, said Lyn Kukral, a spokeswoman for the Army surgeon general.

The second team has been sent to Iraq, where most of the cases occurred, Kukral said. The team will sample soil, water and air.

Cases also occurred in Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Qatar, she said.

The teams will review patient records and lab results and question health workers and patients to try to determine the cause or causes. "They may all be different," Kukral said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, has been consulted, but no CDC officials are involved, she said.

"If the teams determine that the cases are unusual in any way, they will make preventive or corrective recommendations," a statement from the Army's surgeon general said. "Sometimes correlations among cases do not exist, and definitive conclusions about the cases as a group are not possible."

The causes of the two soldiers' deaths have not been determined.

"Currently, we have identified no infectious agent common to all of the cases," the statement said, adding that no evidence exists that the cases were caused by exposure to chemical or biological weapons, SARS or environmental toxins.

Of about 100 patients with pneumonia, 15 required ventilators to help breathe, the Army said. Two of the 15 died, three remain hospitalized and 10 have recovered, the Army said.

Fourteen of the ventilator cases were soldiers, and one was a Marine, Kukral said. All but one were men.

Typically, pneumonia requiring hospitalization occurs in about nine of 10,000 soldiers per year, the Army statement said. "Based on this historical number, the approximately 100 total cases of pneumonia in [U.S. Central Command] since March 1 do not exceed expectations," it said.

Kukral said she did not know how common it is for pneumonia cases among the military to require the aid of ventilators.

From 1998 through 2002, 17 soldiers died from pneumonia or its complications, the Army said.

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