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U.S. Teams in Iraq Investigate Mystery Illness

ByABC News via logo
August 4, 2003, 9:06 AM

Aug. 4 -- U.S. military officials are investigating an outbreak of a mysterious "pneumonia-like" illness that has claimed the lives of two American soldiers in Iraq.

The illness is officially being called pneumonia, and the Army has recorded about 100 cases labeled as such throughout Iraq since March 1. Of the 100 cases, 15 were serious enough to warrant the patients being hooked up to ventilators and evacuated from the region.

According to a release by the U.S. Army surgeon general, two of the 15 cases categorized as "serious" have died, 10 have recovered and three remain hospitalized. The cases of the mysterious illness were geographically dispersed across Iraq and came from different units.

The Defense Department has activated two medical teams to investigate the causes of the serious cases among soldiers deployed in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Concerns over the sickness have increased with the deaths and U.S. officials acknowledge it is unusual for healthy young males to die as a result of pneumonia, ABCNEWS' Claire Shipman reported on Good Morning America today.

One of the U.S. soldiers who died was 20-year-old Spc. Joshua Neusche of Montreal, Mo., who fell ill near Baghdad in late June. He was taken to the Landstuhl military base in Germany for special treatment, but he died on July 12.

The other soldier, whose name has not been released, died about a month before Neusche.

Speaking on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America today, Neusche's father, Mark Neusche, said he hoped the U.S. Army's investigation would help his son's comrades still stationed in Iraq.

"We want to know why," said Neusche. "A perfectly healthy 20-year-old does not drop in a matter of hours from pneumonia and fall into a coma and never come out of it. That's our main question. We need to find out why so we can help other soldiers."

Looking for a Cause

The Pentagon says the possibility that a biological weapon was used was investigated and is not the case, nor was an infectious agent common to all the cases identified. The Pentagon has also ruled out SARS and Legionnaire's disease.