Scientist finds nerve damage in Gulf War vets

March 27, 1996
Web posted at: 7:10 p.m. EST (0010 GMT)

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- A new study from the University of Glasgow, published by the British Medical Association, indicates there may be a unifying and serious ailment plaguing Gulf War veterans.

A scientist studied 14 British veterans who had complained of unexplainable symptoms and found a common link. His study, published Wednesday in the prestigious Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, found evidence of dysfunctions in the nervous systems of the ill veterans, who were compared to 13 healthy civilians.

The study arose out of complaints from about 700 British Gulf War veterans who said they suffered ailments that have also plagued American vets. The symptoms included chronic fatigue, headaches, memory loss, occasional numbness, recurring skin rashes, chest pains, and aching limbs. There have also been repeated reports in Britain of high numbers of babies with birth defects being born to Gulf War vets and their spouses.

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The veterans blamed their illnesses on a battery of immunizations they received before being sent to the Gulf, meant to protect them against chemical and biological weapons. There have been no reports of Gulf War Syndrome symptoms among French troops, who were not immunized.

Although the sample of veterans in the study was small, it was reviewed by peers and published in a pre-eminent medical journal. It was considered a sound scientific study and points to the need for further investigation.

It is also believed to be the first study to find a clinical explanation for Gulf War Syndrome symptoms. The British Ministry of Defense, until now, has discounted the possibility of that a Gulf War Syndrome exists and has suggested instead that the veterans were suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. The new study may bring about a change of opinion.


Dr. Goran Jamal, the British neurophysiologist who led the study, stressed that it is not the final word on Gulf War Syndrome. Yet to be accounted for, he said, were the outside factors veterans were exposed to, including exposure to a number of pesticides used to eradicate insects in the desert and exposure to different climatic conditions from their normal climates. For example, fumes from burning oil were in the air constantly.

"At this point of time I think it would be very difficult to be certain as to what was the underlying cause, but we do have certain theories and hypotheses about this and I feel for certain that further research is required," Jamal said.

The United States has been somewhat more forthcoming in tracking down the cause of Gulf War Syndrome and helping veterans who suffer from it. A study on American Gulf War vets by a research microbiologist will be unveiled Thursday before a House subcommittee on Capitol Hill. It will show possible damage to the immune systems of Gulf War vets.


Jim Tuite of the U.S.-based Gulf War Research Foundation said the U.S. veterans received polio vaccines before deployment that were identical to those all U.S. residents are supposed to receive as children.

He said the study "checked their immune system to see if they were developing antibodies to the polio vaccine." The study found that veterans were not developing antibodies to the polio vaccine to as great a degree as members of the general population were.

Neither of the two studies is conclusive, and so far, both the U.S. Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs have so declined comment on them.

Paul Sullivan, a member of the group Gulf War Veterans of Georgia, is hopeful. "If this study can help prod our government into doing more research, then this is a breakthrough. It's a breakthrough we've been looking for and waiting for," he said.

His remarks underscore the bottom line in both these studies: Each lends more credibility to the veterans. Maybe these ailments being reported by Gulf War veterans aren't random and disconnected. Maybe, just maybe, there is a unifying diagnosis and cause.

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