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Army finds no illness link { October 5 2003 }

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Sunday October 5, 2003
Army finds no illness link in biowarfare test subjects
by DAVID DISHNEAU/Associated Press Writer

FREDERICK, Md. - An Army study of 358 men who voluntarily participated in biological warfare experiments found no cause for heightened rates of asthma and headaches that some reported decades later, the subjects learned at a reunion Saturday.

A separate study of biological weapons researchers who were repeatedly vaccinated with multiple vaccines found they had significantly higher rates of fatigue than a control group. However, "this finding was not associated with number of shots, number of antigens or time in the multiple immunizations program," Lt. Col. Phillip Pittman, the author of both studies, wrote.

Taken together, the studies found no adverse health effects attributable to exposure to specific biological materials, among either the workers or the volunteers, according to executive summaries of Pittman's studies. The Army said it could not release the full manuscripts before they are published in a scientific journal.

Pittman works at the U.S. Army Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, where most of the biowarfare experiments were conducted.

The volunteers were drafted soldiers who chose to participate in Operation Whitecoat, a bioweapons testing program at Fort Detrick from 1954 to 1973. The 2,300 human guinea pigs were Seventh-day Adventists, a religion that frowns on combat duty but encourages medical military service.

Pittman's study was based on questionnaires returned by 522 Whitecoats between April 1998 and April 2002. Of those, 358 were exposed to an infectious agent, vaccine or other biological product. The other 164 didn't take part in exposure studies and comprised a control group.

The studies involved 11 organisms, including those that cause Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis, tularemia, yellow fever, plague and anthrax. Many of the subjects were exposed by breathing through tubes attached to the 8-ball, a giant, stainless steel sphere into which germ-laden vapors were introduced.

Thirteen percent of the subjects exposed to antibiotics or other inert substances reported having asthma, compared with 2.4 percent among controls, Pittman found. He found a similar disparity in asthma rates among those exposed to tularemia vaccines. In addition, nearly 36 percent of tularemia vaccine recipients reported having problem headaches at least occasionally, compared with just over 18 percent of controls.

"However, the size of the population under study proved insufficient to conclude that these statistical associations are real," Pittman wrote. "No adverse impact on the overall health of Operation Whitecoat volunteers could be conclusively attributed to participation in research studies at Fort Detrick."

Pittman announced the results to about 150 Whitecoat veterans attending a reunion in Frederick.

Whitecoat veteran Pete Viehmann, 65, of Watsonville, Calif., attributed his asthma to his exposure to tularemia, sometimes called rabbit fever, a nonfatal illness that can cause pneumonia-like symptoms.

"The asthma has escalated over the years," he said.

Viehmann said he treats the attacks with inhalers provided by the Veterans Administration, although the government has not acknowledged any connection between the illness and his military service.

"I feel this was a duty that I could do for my country because I didn't want to go in as a combatant," Viehmann said.

Pittman's other study involved 155 Fort Detrick workers who received multiple immunizations, and a 256-member control group. Besides the high rate of fatigue in the study group, he found that a significantly higher proportion of them had abnormally high monoclonal protein levels, which is sometimes associated with cancers of the bone marrow and white blood cells. But the study found no associations with any specific diseases or medical conditions in the subjects.

Pittman said he plans to monitor the health of those with increased protein levels. In addition, a larger study of about 3,000 volunteers who received multiple vaccines is under way, he said.

2003 The Herald-Mail Company

Adventists recall tests illness { October 5 2003 }
Army finds no illness link { October 5 2003 }
Research tests faith citizenship { October 5 2003 }

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