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Last Updated: Saturday, 2 August, 2003, 07:01 GMT 08:01 UK
Iraq pneumonia deaths investigated
A US soldier guards a position in central Baghdad
A desert environment can exacerbate respiratory problems
The US army has sent a team of experts to Iraq to investigate a pneumonia outbreak among its troops, which has so far left two dead.

"You've got a healthy population and a young population (US troops) and you have two soldiers who have died, and that's a concern," said army spokeswoman Lyn Kukral.

She said there have been more than 100 cases among US troops in the Iraq region since the beginning of March, including 15 serious enough to warrant medical evacuation to get the patients ventilators to assist their breathing.

We have no evidence to indicate that there are chemical or biological weapons or environmental toxins involved
Lyn Kukral, army spokeswoman

Of these 15, two soldiers died, 10 troops recovered and three remain hospitalised.

Experts are also being sent to Landstuhl Regional Medical Centre in Germany, where some of the troops were treated after being flown from Iraq.

They will be hunting for a possible common thread.

The troops who have come down with pneumonia were geographically dispersed and came from different military units, officials said.

The cases also occurred periodically over five months, rather than all at once.

Soil samples

Ms Kukral said no infectious agent such as a bacterium or virus has been discovered to be common to all the cases.

"We have no evidence to indicate that there are chemical or biological weapons or environmental toxins involved."

The Iraq team will sample soil, water and air to gauge whether these factors might be playing a role.

Pneumonia is a sometimes fatal infection or inflammation of the lungs in which air sacs fill with pus and other liquid, interfering with oxygen reaching the blood stream.

A desert environment can exacerbate respiratory problems.

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