New Gulf War Study Inconclusive

Thursday, September 7th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — A comprehensive new report on the chronic illnesses suffered by some Gulf War veterans was unable to link their problems to a specific cause.

The Institute of Medicine studied the research done on several possible causes for the veterans' syndrome: the toxic nerve agent sarin; a drug used to pretreat against exposure to nerve gas; depleted uranium; and vaccines to prevent anthrax and botulism.

But the scientists said Thursday they could not find enough evidence to link the illnesses to any single cause.

``We'd like to give veterans and their families definitive answers, but the evidence simply is not strong enough,'' said Harold C. Sox Jr., chairman of the committee that did the research. Sox heads the department of medicine at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H.

The Defense Department says an estimated 90,000 troops who served in the Gulf War complain of illnesses such as fatigue, skin rashes, headaches and muscle and joint pain.

The Pentagon requested the study by the institute, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, an independent agency chartered by Congress to provide scientific advice to the government.

A study published in May in the British Medical Journal suggested a link between multiple vaccines given to soldiers deployed in the Persian Gulf War and the unexplained illnesses. That report was based on 923 British Gulf War veterans.

The study by the Institute of Medicine noted that British research has provided ``limited evidence of an association'' with multiple vaccinations.

But it noted that 99 workers at Fort Detrick, Md., who received multiple vaccinations had been studied for 25 years with no clinical symptoms.

Overall, the institute said, the available evidence is insufficient to show whether the multiple vaccinations have an effect on long-term health.

Other findings in the study:

—Sarin: Low-level exposure to this nerve gas may have occurred among troops when U.S. soldiers destroyed Iraqi munitions stockpiles.

A survey of 20,000 troops within 50 miles of the stockpiles showed 99 percent reported no serious nerve illnesses, the report noted. It said that while high doses of the chemical are known to be dangerous, there is not enough information available on low doses to reach any conclusion.

—Pyridostigmine bromide is a drug used as a pretreatment for exposure to nerve agents. It was provided to about 250,000 soldiers, but records don't indicate if they all took the pills.

There were some cases of poisoning from taking high doses of the pills, but the committee was unable to find evidence of long-term effects from the amount normally used.

—Depleted uranium, which has less radioactivity than naturally occurring uranium, is used in tank armor and some ammunition.

The committee said there were indications that the levels of uranium involved in the war do not lead to lung cancer or kidney damage. There was not enough evidence to determine if the uranium could be linked to other diseases.

—Anthrax vaccine was given to thousands of service members during the Gulf War because of the fear that Iraq would launch a biological attack. A later decision to give the vaccine to all U.S. military personnel has provoked controversy, with some resisting the vaccinations.

The typical vaccination reactions of redness, swelling and occasional fever were found, but the committee said there have not been enough scientific studies done to determine if there is any long-term adverse effect from the vaccine.

—Botulinum vaccine is under investigation as a way to block the dangerous toxins of the form of food poisoning known as botulism. Again, the committee said there have not been sufficient studies to determine any long-term hazard.