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Deployment to Iraq linked to higher asthma risk

During the early stages of the Iraq War a research team at SUNY Stony Brook School of Medicine began investigating diagnoses of new-onset asthma among deployed soldiers.  Their research, published in Asthma and Allergy Proceedings July 2010, finds that among the 6,233 troops on active duty from 2004-07, the rate of new-onset asthma was 6.6% for Iraq-deployed soldiers and 4.4% for stateside-based ones.  A total of 290 new-onset cases were identified between both groups. The relative odds of coming back from deployment in Iraq with new-onset asthma was 1.58 times (or 158%) and this association held for both genders and all age groups.  Among those Iraq-deployed new asthmatics, all had reduction in pulmonary function despite being on asthma medications and not all reductions were reversible with an asthma relief inhaler.  This suggests that some of these young women and men may have permanent lung injury.

Dr. Anthony Szema, FACAAI, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Surgery at SUNY Stony Brook School of Medicine was the lead researcher on the original study, and is now looking at a longer time period of these active duty troops, from 2004-2010. The environmental conditions in Iraq are quite concerning to Dr. Szema and other researchers. There are massive sandstorms known as  "shamal" and "sharqi", which may contain metal silicates from the sand, as per investigation of Captain Mark Lyles at the U.S. Naval War College.  Further, from 2004-2009, large "burn pits" were in operation 24 hours a day.  A burn pit is an area of land of up to 10 acres, where all trash is burned in a slow, low heat manner without an incinerator. The burned trash has included medical waste, munitions, and plastic water bottles.

"Certainly, we are concerned about these toxic exposures which are unprecedented and may have long-term ramifications," says Dr. Szema.  “Another issue is the rainy season in the winter in Iraq, associated with flooding of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the land of Mesopotamia.  It is possible that predisposed soldiers in damp, old buildings may become allergic to dust mite antigens, molds, and even the indigenous trees and grasses."

The study has been expanded to include military personnel stationed in Afghanistan.

 
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