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Gulf War injections are toxic cocktail when combined, researchers say

gulf war syndrome

Findings may explain soldiers' ailments

April 16, 1996
Web posted at: 11:00 a.m. EDT

DURHAM, North Carolina (CNN) -- Inoculations given to Gulf War soldiers to shield them from insect-borne diseases and nerve gas poisoning may actually be the cause of the so- called Gulf War Syndrome, CNN has learned.

Animal experiments at Duke University Medical Center show that "harmless doses" of three chemicals used to protect the soldiers are highly toxic when combined. The researchers say the findings may explain the wide array of symptoms reported by an estimated 30,000 Gulf War veterans.

Symptoms reported by soldiers include respiratory, digestive and skin diseases, fatigue and memory loss.

In studies using chickens, the researchers found that two pesticides -- DEET and permethrin -- and the anti-nerve gas agent pyridostigmine bromide, or BP, were harmless when used alone.

gulf war shot

When combined, however, the chemicals caused neurological deficits similar to the symptoms reported by some Gulf War veterans.

This finding is consistent with a study reported in Scotland last month in which University of Glasgow researchers say there was evidence of neurological dysfunction in British Gulf War vets.

The Duke researchers theorize that the anti-nerve gas agent given to the soldiers deactivated the body's normal ability to protect itself against the two pesticides that also were given to the troops. As a result, those pesticides were able to travel to the brain and nervous system, causing damage.

In January, a panel of experts assembled by the Institute of Medicine, a private research organization, concluded it's "unlikely" there is a unique disease that could be called a Gulf War Syndrome.

The panel was asked by the U.S. Department of Defense to review the Pentagon's efforts to treat veterans returning from the Gulf War.

In response to the institute's findings, Lt. Gen. Alcide LaNoue said research into Gulf War symptoms is ongoing, but said doctors have been able to find "a legitimate diagnosis" for the problems of "80 percent or 85 percent" of those treated.

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