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Friday, 17 May, 2002, 13:44 GMT 14:44 UK
More troops struck by illness
Brigadier Roger Lane, commander of British forces, speaking about the illness
There are fears the illness could spread further
Twenty more British troops have contracted a mystery illness in Afghanistan - bringing the total number struck down to 38.

One of the new sufferers is believed to be a Royal Marine of 45 Commando - the first case of the unidentified fever in the fighting force.

He is seriously ill and was being flown back to the UK on Friday.

The marines are currently taking part in their first combat of the war in Afghanistan, joining US and Australian troops battling al-Qaeda fighters in the eastern mountains.

If health and hygiene procedures have been sloppy they should be tightened

Paul Keetch, Lib Dem spokesman
Two of the other new cases, all medical personnel, were said to have stabilised after responding to treatment for the stomach illness at their base.

The remainder have shown symptoms of vomiting and diarrhoea but were said to be less seriously ill.

The marine is thought to be the first case from outside the 34 Field Hospital at Bagram airbase, where the outbreak started.

That has raised concerns that the disease could spread through the rest of the camp.

Tests underway

An anaesthetist, who joined the evacuation flight of the some of the sick earlier in the week, had reportedly been struck down with the same illness.

However, a medical check judged him well enough to resume normal duties.

A degree of diarrhoea and vomiting... is an occupational hazard working out in these climes

Lieutenant Colonel Ben Curry
An MoD spokesman said it appeared that he had been suffering from something else, adding: "It may not be the same condition."

Tests are under way to try to discover the nature of the illness affecting the troops.

It was first reported on Monday, and 18 medical personnel at the hospital had been stuck drown by Wednesday.

Eight were so ill they were evacuated to Europe and the UK.

The remainder were treated at the hospital, which was closed as a precautionary measure except to further suspected cases of the illness.

The 60 or so staff based there were quarantined, while almost 300 other troops were confined to their quarters for fear of spreading the fever.

The MoD was on Thursday working on the theory that contaminated food was to blame for the outbreak.

All troops have been put on sterilised food rations and bottled water.

Royal Marines spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ben Curry said the illness had "absolutely not" impaired British forces' operational capability.

'Missing out'

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that a degree of diarrhoea and vomiting was "an occupational hazard working out in these climes."

For many of those taken ill, the worst aspect of their condition was that they were missing out on the action, he said.

"They are now recovered, fit and healthy and rather sad because they are sitting in their base and missing the show," he said.

Defence minister Dr Lewis Moonie said it was "most unlikely" that the illness was the result of a biological attack.

Microbiologist Dr Mahmoud Halablab, of King's College, London, said gastroenteritis seemed the most likely cause.

Opposition parties have called for a full inquiry into the mystery illness.

Paul Keetch, Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, said: "If health and hygiene procedures have been sloppy they should be tightened."

The BBC's Paul Adams reports from Bagram
"This illness has spread"
See also:

16 May 02 | Health
Speculation over mystery illness
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