"We were dealing with elite, trained people. They could run two miles in 12-and-a-half or 13 minutes before they were deployed," Miller said. "When we got them, at best they could walk-run two miles."
One soldier's pulmonary function was 115 percent at the time of deployment. Upon his return, that had declined to the low 80s -- although the low 80s is considered normal, the study authors said.
In all, 31 returning soldiers underwent biopsies in addition to chest X-rays, pulmonary function tests and high-resolution computed tomography. Of these, 29 were diagnosed with bronchiolitis. And, of these 29, 21 had been exposed to the sulfur mine fire in Mosul while five had "unknown exposures." In other words, some soldiers who were not deployed near the fire experienced similar problems.
"The speculation on [the five individuals with "unknown exposure"] is that when you're fighting a war in Iraq that you're exposed to a lot of fires that subject you to inhalation," Miller said. "They burn everything over there, all their trash, all their human waste, not to mention things like weapons caches and explosives."
Bernstein said: "It makes rational sense that sulfur dioxide could cause this disease in soldiers who had a pretty large known exposure. It's a very good study of this type, but there are some questions that they will need to address. What [the study] doesn't say is how many people were dispatched to that area and were exposed and didn't get bronchiolitis."
There is no good treatment for bronchiolitis, Miller said, and most of the soldiers studied have been medically discharged from the military. The good news is that the soldiers followed in this study have not seen any deterioration of their condition in the past two or two-and-a-half years
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