Deployment to Iraq War may not have affected health of UK armed forces

EMBARGO: 00:01H (London time) Tuesday May 16, 2006. In North America the embargo lifts 18:30H ET Monday May 15, 2006.

Regular personnel in the UK armed forces who served in the Iraq War have not, so far, suffered from ill health 3 years post-conflict, according to a paper published online today (Tuesday May 16, 2006) by The Lancet. The authors warn, however, that it is premature to conclude that there has been no effect of deployment to Iraq, and further follow-up is needed.

Matthew Hotopf and colleagues at King's College London, UK, compared the health of a random sample of UK armed forces who were deployed to the 2003 Iraq War with that of similar military personnel who were not deployed. Between June 2004 and March 2006, over 10 270 military personnel completed a questionnaire covering the nature of their deployment and their health status, including symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, common mental disorders, general wellbeing, alcohol consumption, physical symptoms common to Gulf War veterans, and fatigue. The investigators found that deployed individuals had similar rates of mental and physical illness to those not deployed to Iraq, other than a modest increase in the number of individuals with multiple physical symptoms. However, the team did find that deployed reserve personnel reported more symptoms than their non-deployed counterparts in all health outcomes apart from alcohol misuse. The authors suggest that this could be due to stresses related to deployment that might apply particularly to reservists, such as family or employers not understanding or not supporting their role in the military, or being deployed to unfamiliar posts.

Professor Hotopf concludes: "For regular UK service personnel there is, as yet, no specific health effect of deployment to the 2003 Iraq War…The higher rates of physical and mental illness in the deployed reservists are of concern and have important policy implications. Although support from medical and welfare services in theatre is identical, this is not the case after homecoming."

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Contact: Ruth Whitbread, Public Relations Department, King's College London. Tel: 020 7848 4334/ 07811 139101 (mobile) Email: ruth.whitbread@kcl.ac.uk

The Lancet press office T) 0207 424 4949/4249 pressoffice@lancet.com


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