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Thursday, 16 May, 2002, 13:03 GMT 14:03 UK
Two UK troops 'seriously ill'
Troops in Bagram
The illness has closed an entire field hospital
Two of the 18 British troops struck down with a mystery sickness in Afghanistan are very seriously ill but improving, defence Secretary Geoff Hoon has told MPs.

This is clearly a very serious situation

Geoff Hoon
Another person remains seriously ill and is due to be evacuated to the UK on Thursday along with five other patients, he added.

This brings the total returning home to eight.

Tests have not yet revealed the nature of the disease, Mr Hoon told MPs.

The defence secretary also announced the compulsory call up of medical reserves starting with five anaesthetists and two surgeons for deployment in Afghanistan in early July.

A consultant in infectious diseases was to be deployed as soon as possible, he told MPs.


"This is clearly a very serious situation," he said.

"We are, however, encouraged that there have been no new cases over the past 22 hours."

Shadow Defence Secretary Bernard Jenkin called for a full inquiry into the mystery illness.

He suggested that there might be a question mark over the standard of British army latrines in Afghanistan, a concern raised when he visited troops there last month.

Operational effectiveness will not be marred by what has happened

Dr Lewis Moonie
Defence Minister
About 350 soldiers at a medical hospital in Bagram are under quarantine while health officials investigate the cause of the illness.

While the fever remains unidentified, the Ministry of Defence believes it is unlikely to have been caused by a bio-terrorist attack.

All the sick are military medical personnel working at 34 Field Hospital in Bagram which has now been closed - except to treat the fever.

Two men were flown back to Europe on Wednesday, one to Britain and the other to Germany, because they were so seriously ill, although their conditions are now said to have "stabilised".

Another six less severely ill soldiers left Bagram on Thursday for destinations in the UK.


Defence Minister Dr Lewis Moonie said it had "all the characteristics of a gastro-intestinal diarrhoeal disease".

He said he was cautiously optimistic and told BBC News: "We've had no more cases overnight and should that continue. I think the hospital will be back into full operation very quickly.

"But we have allies out there with their own hospitals who have agreed to provide us with any cover we need, so operational effectiveness will not be marred by what has happened."

Defence Minister Dr Lewis Moonie
Dr Lewis Moonie: Optimistic
The 350 troops who staff the hospital have been confined to either their quarters or the hospital.

A German field hospital is now providing back-up for other medical treatment for the marines taking part in the ongoing Operation Snipe.

It was initially thought the disease was meningitis but tests have ruled that "unlikely".

Paul Adams, the BBC's defence correspondent in Bagram, says some theories have suggested it could be enteric fever - which is related to typhoid.

'Viral infection'

Professor Malcolm Hooper, a professor of medicinal chemistry, said he was "not convinced" it was gastro-enteritis.

He told BBC News it was more likely to be "something local and nasty" - a viral infection such as Crimean haemorrhagic fever.

The professor ruled out food poisoning and said a biological or chemical cause was unlikely, although a possibility.

Earlier Brigadier Roger Lane said soldiers first started reporting symptoms three days ago, including fever, diarrhoea and vomiting.

The area around 34 Field Hospital had been isolated and military police were deployed to prevent trespassers, he added.

Lieutenant Colonel Ben Curry, with the troops in Bagram, told the BBC: "Clearly, this is a serious situation and we are taking steps to prevent any further spread."

The BBC's Paul Adams
"Bagram is not a good place to be sick"
British Defence Minister Lewis Moonie
"Operational effectiveness will not be marred by what has happened"
Dr Paul Clarke of Medical Advisory Services
"This is likely to... be some kind of viral infection"
See also:

16 May 02 | Health
Speculation over mystery illness
14 May 02 | South Asia
Weapons cache 'was al-Qaeda's'
15 May 02 | South Asia
'I saw new ammunition'
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