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Defense chief: 'No evidence' Gulf War illness is contagious

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Cohen criticizes Pentagon's handling of illness issue

March 10, 1997
Web posted at: 10:02 p.m. EST (0302 GMT)

From Correspondent Jamie McIntyre

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Defense Secretary William Cohen Monday flatly denied the Pentagon has any evidence that Gulf War illnesses are contagious.

Cohen

At a Pentagon welcome ceremony for the British Foreign Minister, Cohen said, "We have found no evidence, we know of no evidence that the Gulf War illness is contagious."

His statement was in response to a Los Angeles Times article published Monday, in which some medical professionals treating sick Gulf War veterans claimed to have contracted symptoms of the disease.

Dr. Garth Nicolson, a biochemist at the nonprofit Institute for Molecular Medicine, is among the doctors. He claimed that he developed a test that shows higher rates of mycoplasma among sick Gulf War veterans.

But no independent researchers have been able to replicate his results.

"Obviously of the 80 research projects under way, we will focus on all of the issues that have been raised," Cohen said. "But at this time, I can say we see no evidence that it is contagious and all precautions that can be taken have been taken... We will proceed to treat this like any other question about illness."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta had a similar opinion.

Earlier Monday, in an interview with radio reporters, Cohen sharply criticized the handling of the Gulf War illness issue. "I think a poor job was done on record-keeping. The way in which it was handled by the Pentagon was not acceptable..."

"And what we have to do now is persuade our veterans and our soldiers that we are going to conduct a very thorough, painstaking examination, investigation; leave no stone unturned."

The Army agreed in January on a "research protocol" to test whether Nicolson's technique can in fact detect mycoplasma infections missed by conventional antibody tests. Nicolson has been making his claim since 1995, and is the only researcher to claim to have evidence that Gulf War illness is contagious.

 
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