Army Sending Team To Probe Health Issues

By ROBERT BURNS, AP Military Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Army disputed reports that a team of medical experts being sent to Fort Bragg, N.C., next week will focus mainly on a malaria drug while studying a wide range of health-related issues that might explain a series of domestic killings.

The team will look into cultural and other issues not unique to Fort Bragg, the Army said in a written statement Friday.

"Contrary to news reports speculating that the team will focus primarily on anti-malaria prophylaxis/medications taken by soldiers, the team will consult with local medical and unit/installation leadership at Fort Bragg on a wide variety of possible contributing factors," it said.

Consultants in psychology, social work and psychiatry will joint Army epidemiologists and chaplains as well as officials from the government's Centers for Disease Control. In addition to health issues, they will assess the Army's family education programs, practices and support services.

Three of the four Fort Bragg soldiers who investigators say killed their wives this summer were special operations troops who had been deployed to Afghanistan, where the risk of malaria is high.

Army officials would not say if the men had taken the Army's preferred anti-malaria drug, Lariam.

Two of the soldiers killed themselves after killing their wives, including Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Floyd, whose 29-year-old wife, Andrea Floyd, was from Alliance, Ohio.

Master Sgt. William Wright, 36, has been charged in the death of his wife, Jennifer Wright, 32. The couple grew up in Mason, Ohio.

Lariam carries rare reported side effects including agitation, depression and aggression.

"There's no reason to believe right now that Lariam affected the behavior of the individuals," Army spokeswoman Elaine Kanellis said earlier this week.

The manufacturer of Lariam, Roche Laboratories, acknowledges reports of suicide and suicidal thoughts attributed to Lariam, also known as mefloquine. But company spokesman Terence Hurley said they are extremely rare among 25 million people who have taken the drug.

The World Health Organization puts the incidence of serious neuropsychiatric effects from the drug at 5 in 100,000. Out of millions of travelers given mefloquine each year, between 1 in 6,000 to 1 in about 10,000 will experience some kind of serious adverse reaction, the WHO says.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)