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Saturday, 18 May, 2002, 14:35 GMT 15:35 UK
'Winter vomiting' hits UK troops
British troops of 45 Commando heading to operation Condor
One Marine and several medical staff were struck down
A mystery illness affecting British soldiers in Afghanistan is now thought to be the non-fatal "winter vomiting" bug.

About 25 troops are thought to have been hit by the bug, which causes severe vomiting and diarrhoea - while about 14 others are thought to have had unrelated stomach upsets.

The MoD said the bug was virtually identical to the one which swept the UK earlier this year.

The Public Health Laboratory has confirmed the disease, also known as Norwalk-like virus, in two cases, and tests were being carried out on the others.


Even in a First World country with First World facilities this virus can spread quickly and cause problems

MoD
Defence chiefs said experts had initially been confused because the harsh conditions faced by troops in Afghanistan, particularly dehydration caused by the heat, had produced more extreme symptoms than those seen among sufferers in the UK.

The bug hit headlines in the UK in January, when an outbreak among staff and patients at the Victoria Infirmary in Glasgow spread and caused a national panic.

The MoD defended the force's ability to cope with the outbreak, comparing the effects with those witnessed in British hospitals.

"Even in a First World country with First World facilities this virus can spread quickly and cause problems," said a spokesman.

Hygiene tightened

The MoD is to launch an investigation into how the disease spread. It is usually transmitted by faecal contamination, or by bugs being sent into the air through vomiting.

The MoD has tightened up hygiene measures, with all troops put on sterilised food rations and bottled water.

The virus was found worldwide, including in Afghanistan, a spokesman said - and there was "no suggestion" troops had brought it from the UK.

Fresh food, brought in by civilian contracts through Pakistan, was a possible cause.

"There will no doubt be lessons to be learned and they will be learned," the spokesman said.

Quarantined

Most of the sufferers in the Afghan outbreak were medical staff attached to the field hospital at Bagram.

But one was believed to be a Royal Marine of 45 Commando, which raised concerns that the disease could spread through the rest of the camp.

Most of the sick were treated at the hospital, which was shut down, 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.

'Occupational hazard'

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

He said 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.

UK marines are currently working with Australian and US forces, combing Afghanistan's eastern Paktia province for Taleban and al-Qaeda fighters.

See also:

18 May 02 | South Asia
Troops scour Afghan mountains
18 May 02 | UK Politics
Hoon rejects Afghan 'hype' claim
22 Jan 02 | T-Z
Winter vomiting virus
23 Jan 02 | Health
The stomach bug outbreak
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