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Study: No mystery disease behind Gulf War Syndrome

January 4, 1996
Web posted at: 3:30 p.m EST

From Medical Correspondent Jeff Levine

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A panel of experts assembled by the prestigious Institute of Medicine concluded Thursday 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 its report, the independent Institute of Medicine heralds the medical program as "compassionate and comprehensive." Some 10,000 patients have been treated. However, the report continues, "There is currently no clinical evidence ... for a previously unknown, serious illness or syndrome among Persian Gulf veterans. If there were a new or unique illness or syndrome ... it would probably be detectable (in this population)."

The panel chair, Dr. Gerard Burrow of the Yale University School of Medicine, said a new or unique syndrome among vets is "unlikely."

He said he believed this to be good news, because the problems encountered by the vets are largely treatable. Nearly 40 percent of the 10,000 with medical problems suffered from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the report.

Burrow suggested that the Pentagon probably should have paid more attention to stress as an issue, but wanted to make sure no physical cause of disease was ruled out. The Institute of Medicine report didn't eliminate the possibility that small groups of vets might be afflicted with as-yet undetected diseases and said the answers must await big epidemiological studies under way by the government.

Symptoms of those thought to be affected by the suspected Gulf War Syndrome included respiratory, digestive and skin diseases, fatigue and memory loss. Some suggested the ailments resulted from chemical pollutants from burning oil fields and insecticides, inoculations to protect them from germ warfare or possible Iraqi use of chemical or biological weapons.

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