ILDs, 9/11, veterans and the news

Here’s a prediction: News reports about Interstitial Lung Disease, or ILD, will increase. A group of rare diseases is becoming rarer.

The view from my roof on Sept. 11, 2001.

The 10th anniversary of 9/11 is the likely first source for news about ILD. Veterans returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the American response to 9/11, are a troubling possibility, as well.

The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010 (pdf), signed into law last January, provides health care and compensation to first responders and Lower Manhattan residents sickened by the toxic dust from the World Trade Center attacks. ILD is on the list of illnesses covered. In a controversial move, Congress did not list cancer but instead required periodic reviews to determine whether cancer should be added.

In late July, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health issued its first review cancer links to the 9/11 attacks (pdf) and concluded cancer will not be added this year. Another review is due next year.

ILD appears to have received its most news coverage so far this year when a July 26 story by Cristian Salazar of The Associated Press had this as its second paragraph: “A federal review of scientific evidence, required under law and published Tuesday, supports keeping cancer off a list of Sept. 11 health problems including asthma, interstitial lung disease and mental illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder.”

A Google news search scored 381 hits on the phrase “including asthma, interstitial lung disease and mental illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder.” Not all credit Salazar or the AP. My newsroom experience doubts it is a coincidence, but I’ll limit my purpose to ILD awareness.

In contrast, The New York Times summed up the list in the Zadroga act as “a specific list of illnesses, mainly asthma and other respiratory diseases.” The Times article, which did not mention ILD, was not as widely used as AP’s.

As the Sept. 11 anniversary nears and reporters search the Internet for an angle,  perhaps they will find that Salazar article and be curious about interstitial lung disease.  Heroes with a federally recognized disease that few people have heard about makes for a good story. (My journalist friends are free to steal this idea.)

Veterans diagnosed with lung disorders after deployments in the Middle East may also raise awareness of ILD. They already have the attention of the American Thoracic Society, which held a session on the topic in May at its 2011 International Conference in Denver. According to a report in ScienceDaily on the session, disorders found include constrictive bronchiolitis, asthma and “the rare interstitial lung disease called nonspecific interstitial pneumonitis associated with inhalation of titanium and iron.”

I didn't believe my eyes when the first tower fell.

On July 21, The New England Journal of Medicine published findings of a study at Vanderbilt University of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with severe respiratory issues.  Researchers said 38 cases of constrictive bronchiolitis were found in 49 veterans who had open lung biopsies. Constrictive bronchiolitis is a debilitating and largely untreatable condition but not an ILD. Some ILD cases, however, were also found. No matter the diagnosis, the findings are disquieting and out of proportion with soldiers who have served elsewhere.

Vanderbilt is a leader in investigating lung disorders in veterans and research is continuing. Slides from the Vanderbilt study will be reviewed at National Jewish Hospital in Denver by a researcher who has a grant from the Department of Defense. A report in Army Times on the Vanderbilt research is perhaps most notable for the comments posted by readers that underscore the likelihood this issue will continue in the news.

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