Originally created 09/22/00

Fever results wrong



Further testing showed soldiers at Fort Gordon did not have the tick-borne disease Rocky Mountain spotted fever, an official said Thursday.

Although a source within the laboratory said the tests were done improperly, an official at Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center said an investigation showed the lab was not to blame and the problem might lie with the test kits.

Last month, officials at Eisenhower said seven soldiers had contracted the disease, which is caused by a strain of Rickettsia bacteria carried by either the American dog tick or the wood tick. It can be fatal but is treatable with antibiotics if caught early.

In all, 32 soldiers showed symptoms of the disease and had an initial blood test, and 12 had a second test but all have now proved negative, said Lt. Col. Julie Martin, deputy commander for administration at Eisenhower. All of the people who initially showed the symptoms and had the blood tests did get treatment with antibiotics, Lt. Col. Martin said.

"They were treated and they're all doing fine, nobody had to be hospitalized," she said.

The high number of positive tests initially raised some concerns, and officials investigated to make sure the tests were done correctly and procedure was followed, Lt. Col. Martin said. A source in the labs, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals, blamed the results on a lack of supervision for the person conducting the tests. But Lt. Col. Martin said that was not what the investigation found.

"We have ruled that out," she said. "We're satisfied with the investigation that's been done in the lab as far as our particular testing procedures themselves."

Instead, the investigation is pointing toward the test kits themselves, made by MRL Diagnostics of Cypress, Calif. The problem might lie with the test procedure or with chemicals in kits being damaged by heat during shipping, Lt. Col. Martin said. The company is cooperating with Fort Gordon and is waiting for the Fort Gordon kits to come in so it can do additional testing, said Wayne Hogrefe, director of research and development for MRL.

"All we know is the same lots (of test kits) in our hands haven't shown any problems," Dr. Hogrefe said.

Lt. Col. Martin said she did not know what it was the soldiers have.

"All I know is the doctors that have been treating them are evaluating what else it could be," she said. A sampling of 246 ticks taken from the suspected areas found only six were dog ticks, and only one of those tested positive for the bacteria, Lt. Col. Martin said.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213.