Objectives: The purpose of this study was to determine whether respiratory disease due to crowded living conditions and high levels of suspended and blowing sand had a major adverse impact on US military personnel during Operation Desert Shield.
Methods: A questionnaire survey was administered to 2598 combat troops stationed in Northeast Saudi Arabia for a mean of 102 days. Samples of surface sand from seven different locations were analyzed by scanning electron microscopy and x-ray diffraction.
Results: Among surveyed troops, 34.4% reported a sore throat, 43.1% complained of a cough, 15.4% complained of chronic rhinorrhea, and 1.8% were unable to perform their routine duties because of upper respiratory symptoms. Evaluation of sleeping accommodations indicated that complaints of a sore throat and cough were most closely associated with sleeping in air-conditioned buildings; in contrast, complaints of rhinorrhea were associated with exposure to the outdoor environment while living in tents. Sand samples consisted mostly of quartz, with just 0.21% by weight of respirable size (< 10 microns in diameter).
Conclusions: These findings indicate that upper respiratory complaints were frequent among Operation Desert Shield troops and were related both to the troops' housing and to their exposure to the outside environment.