Albion Monitor /News

U.S. Rejects "Gulf War Syndrome," British Urge Study

by Judith Perera

Evidence of systemic nervous system damage

(IPS) LONDON -- In direct contrast to a new U.S. Defense Department study which rejects the existence of so-called Gulf War syndrome, a new study of sick British veterans of the 1991 conflict has found evidence of systemic nervous system damage.

The British study was conducted by researchers at the Institute of Neurological Sciences at Southern General Hospital in Glasgow, Scotland, led by consultant Dr. Goran Jamal. A total of 14 veterans took part in the study which involved a variety of tests to assess different aspects of nerve function.

"We found neurological dysfunction in the veterans tested," says Jamal. "the majority of the parameters tested showed some abnormality and three of them were significantly abnormal."

"We are certain now that it is a systemic problem"

In total, some 680 British veterans claim to have some illness linked to their service in the Gulf war but the British Ministry of Defense has been reluctant to admit that there is such thing as a distinct Gulf War syndrome with a specific cause.

The Pentagon's study of 18,929 veterans, released two weeks ago, found "no clinical evidence for a previously unknown, serious illness or 'syndrome' among Persian Gulf veterans," and said 36 per cent of the patients suffered from psychological or ill-defined ailments.

The first reports of unexplained illness in the U.S. and Britain appeared late in 1991 including chronic fatigue, diarrhea, achy joints, memory loss, and rashes as well as severe headaches, patchy hair loss, or unheralded bleeding from the gums or sinuses.

Some reported irritability, muscle spasms, high temperatures, or night sweats.

"The way to address any new possible syndrome is to pose some basic questions such as: is there a problem which cannot be explained by existing knowledge?; what is the character and profile of the illness and is there any test for it?; and finally, what is the mechanism and underlying cause?," explains Jamal.

"We have answered the first question -- there is a problem. And we even know something about the profile. For instance we are certain now that it is a systemic problem."

Troops were exposed to a cocktail of drugs and chemicals

The April 2nd Pentagon report maintains in contrast that "to date, a generally accepted case definition does not exist for what has been referred to as 'Gulf War syndrome'." Though it admits the existence of ill health among veterans, it says there is no single cause or consistent symptom.

Although the British sample was small, the study was extremely thorough. The 14 were randomly selected from a larger list by computer and each was compared with a control in terms of age, sex, handedness and physical activity. A series of assessments was then made including symptoms, clinical signs and 22 neurological tests.

The results were then assessed separately by three different teams and the analysis was conducted by an independent person.

Jamal's team is now about to embark on a second stage of study which may give some idea of the mechanisms at work.

In past years experts worldwide have variously blamed the smoke from burning oil fields in Kuwait, the secret use of chemical weapons by Iraq and the use of untested drugs and vaccines, as well as the extensive use of pesticides.

The troops were exposed to a cocktail of drugs and chemicals. They were given high doses of pyridostigmine bromide pills as a prophylactic against nerve gas for three months and were sprayed with organophosphorous and pyrethroid pesticides.

They were also given 17 vaccines over a short period of time. Then there were the environmental stresses including hot desert conditions and smoke from burning oil as well as exposure to depleted uranium from armor piercing weapons.

"Many factors are standing in the dock," says Jamal. "But we feel that a combination of these factors may be important and that the effects of this may have been grossly underestimated. We know a bit about the effects of each of them but we don't know how they work synergistically. We have several hypotheses."

Physical and psychological stress can compromise the immune system and so can a cocktail of different vaccines. Some vaccines, such as polio and botulinus, may also have some affect on the nervous system in certain circumstances.

The Pentagon study said, however, that its doctors found few of the symptoms that would have been expected to result from chemical or biological agents.

Jamal says organophosphorus pesticides can also cause nervous system damage in high doses. The effects of high doses of the anti-nerve gas agents are not known, nor how they may interact with the pesticides or how they may affect a weakened immune system.

Despite the U.S. report, which its drafters described as "definitive" at a press conference in Washington yesterday, Jamal says these factors still need to be further investigated.

"There is one common factor which is not in doubt," he adds. "Before these people were sent to the Gulf they were healthy. When they came home they were not."

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Albion Monitor April 15, 1996 (

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