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Some Iraq War Vets Suffer Breathing Problems
Date:5/21/2008

Many cases linked to sulfur mine fire near Mosul in 2003

WEDNESDAY, May 21 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. soldiers exposed to a blazing sulfur mine fire near Mosul, Iraq, in 2003 returned home with a debilitating breathing disorder that affects the small airways of the lung.

But doctors were only able to diagnose the condition, bronchiolitis, with a lung biopsy. Conventional, non-invasive tests weren't able to reliably identify the problem, said the authors of a study expected to be presented Wednesday at the American Thoracic Society's International Conference, in Toronto.

"In my view, if someone returns from service in Iraq and is short of breath, and we don't have an explanation, this needs to be considered," said Dr. Robert Miller, senior author of the study and assistant professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn. "The other thing is that routine screening probably is ineffective in this case."

Knowing this should also help returning soldiers receive needed medical benefits. "It's important to make this diagnosis by biopsy, because it is the only way soldiers can get any type of disability," Miller said.

The sulfur mine fire near Mosul set off the largest man-made release of sulfur dioxide in history, 100 times greater than that from the eruption of Mount Saint Helens in Washington state in 1980, according to background information for the study.

Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein, director of the Florida Poison Information Center at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Hospital, said sulfur dioxide is a known irritant, a byproduct of combustion, and a component of air pollution. "At high concentrations and prolonged exposure, it makes its way into the lower lungs and causes inflammation," he explained.

Although results of standard pulmonary function tests performed on the soldiers were unremarkable, the severity of their s
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