Reuters: Thursday, December 3, 2009
CHICAGO – U.S. military personnel deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan face an increased risk for developing respiratory symptoms, including persistent or recurring cough and shortness of breath, a large-scale military study has shown. Combat stress along with air pollution could be to blame, researchers say. The findings stem from the Millennium Cohort Study, an ongoing study designed to investigate long-term health consequences related to military service. Among nearly 39,000 military personnel free of persistent or recurring cough or shortness of breath at the outset, 14 percent of “deployers” to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq suffered new respiratory symptoms compared with 10 percent of “non-deployers” not assigned to those war zones, the researchers found. Still, they wrote in the American Journal of Epidemiology, “The current results are reassuring in that no increase in reported asthma, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema was noted in the short term.” According to Dr. Besa Smith from the Department of Defense Center for Deployment Health Research at the Naval Health Research Center in San Diego and colleagues, land-deployed soldiers and Marines were hardest hit by respiratory woes. Deployed Army troops experienced a 73 percent increased likelihood of new respiratory symptoms, while deployed Marines had a 49 percent increased likelihood, whereas no significant associations between deployment and respiratory symptoms were observed among Air Force or Navy/Coast Guard personnel. This suggests to the researchers that exposure related to ground combat, including stress, “may be important” in the development of service-related respiratory symptoms.