The Bagdad Hack is neither a journalist nor a clever trick to get something done in Iraq. It’s a cough. And reading about it is dismaying and maddening. As someone who did a lot of work on unexplained illness following the Gulf War of 1991 — illnesses steadfastly denied by the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs — when these same folks djinned up the steaming pile of shit we call the War in Iraq they had plenty of time to plan for prevention. But when I inquired of colleagues (I was by then no longer involved) if there were any pre-deployment plans to establish baselines and surveillance to alert them that something similar might be happening, they answer was “no.” My informants were as incredulous as I was. And now it’s happening again with the Bagdad Hack:.
They call it the Baghdad Hack. According to one recent estimate by Navy doctors, more than two-thirds of soldiers coming back from Iraq experience at least one episode of respiratory illness, and 36 troops have come down with a rare and sometimes fatal condition known as acute eosinophilic pneumonia. In only a handful of cases have symptoms been pinned to an infectious agent. (According to Asmahan Alshubaili, a Kuwaiti physician, it is rare to find a local family in nearby Kuwait without a case of bronchial asthma.)
Researchers at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research reported three cases of severe pneumonia caused by Q fever, transmitted by dust containing the rickettsia-like bacterium Coxiella burnetti. The dastardly dust has also found its way into medical and dental equipment at frontline treatment facilities, which may be one reason why, since the start of the war, hundreds of wounded soldiers have had their limbs and lives threatened by “Iraqibacter,” the antibiotic-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii, following injuries. (Brendan Borrell, The Scientist)
We’ve known since the Gulf War that the dust in that area was respirable, that is, had components so fine they could penetrate deeply into the lungs. This isn’t news. They are also loaded with micro-organisms, some of them fairly exotic. A team of microbiologists at the Army Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, Mississippi used genetic technology to reveal six genera of bacteria and seven of fungi in hundreds of isolates.
“Some organisms were generally located just about everywhere,” [cell biologist Mark] Lyles says, “but some organisms were specific to some areas.” The samples included strange organisms like Cryptococcus ubeqistanis and the rare Bacillus mojavensis. Lyles also found plenty of known pathogens, including Staphylococcus and Neisseria, a species of which has been implicated in meningitis outbreaks following dust storms in sub-Saharan Africa (see They came from above). He has also found possible strains of Acinetobacter, not yet confirmed by DNA analysis. Lyles also noticed that different organisms populate different sizes of dust particles, and different sizes vertically segregate in the airstream.
Three years ago Lyles reported findings to the Navy Surgeon General, recommending N95 dust masks and dust mitigation measures. He doesn’t know if hsi recommendations were ever considered or acted upon. The reporter from The Scientist repeatedly asked the Navy Surgeon General’s office for comment but got no response. None.
“Sometimes you come up with a lot of things and they get filed away,” Lyles says, “It is a war zone.”
Yes, it’s a war zone. And soldiers are just cannon fodder