Objective: To describe the rates of exacerbation of existing asthma and incidence of new disease in Israeli men during military service.
Design: All 17-year-old Israeli nationals are obliged by law to appear at the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) recruiting office for medical examination. The medical history of army recruits was noted during the 30-month period after their induction into the IDF, and medical examinations were performed by pulmonary specialists in all suspected cases of asthma. The duty status of the soldiers in combat units (CUs), maintenance units (MUs), and clerical tasks was related to their asthma status.
Results: Of a total of 59,058 recruits, 1.0% developed asthma during the 30 months of this study; of those in CUs, 1.2% developed asthma; of those in MUs, 0.8% developed asthma; and of those performing clerical tasks, 0.6% developed asthma. The relative risk for developing or worsening of asthma was related to both the preexisting asthma status of the recruit and the environment in which he carried out his military service. The annual incidence of occupational-related asthma in MUs was found to be 800/million: five to six times the rates reported elsewhere.
Conclusions: Service in CUs was associated with an increased frequency of exacerbation of asthma among recruits with previous disease and with the appearance of disease de novo. "Normal" conscripts with a history of childhood asthma are at a higher risk of developing overt asthma when compared to subjects with no such history. We found a 25% relative excess of incident cases of asthma in soldiers posted in MUs compared to those performing clerical tasks [(0.8 to 0.6%)/0.8%]. This difference is probably attributed to the difference in occupational hazards in these categories. Further studies are needed to determine if this represents the elicitation of underlying preexisting airway lability by new work demands or other environmental conditions, or if this represents a new development of airway lability because of specific immune or nonimmune factors.