Gulf War Illness Suffering Continues
s a further comment to your article entitled Lives in the Balance: Gulf War Illness (Freedom Magazine, Volume 29, Issue 1), two ex-CIA analysts came forward with the information that some in the U.S. government have been misleading the American public on exposure of our Armed Forces during the Gulf War to toxic agents that may be some of the causes of Gulf War Illness (GWI).
This is a classic example of government stonewalling and a continuing tragedy for Gulf War veterans who were exposed to chemical and biological agents during their service in the Persian Gulf.
We published in medical journals that GWI is not a new illness; it is essentially Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. The Surgeon General of the Army agrees that the illness is probably caused by chemical and biological agent exposures. Approximately 100,000 U.S. and British veterans of Desert Storm have debilitating, chronic illnesses, and they are very interested in finding out what is wrong with them and how it can be treated.
Our published study on 650 Gulf War veterans and in many cases their immediate family members with GWI indicates that it produces complex symptoms, such as aching joints, chronic fatigue, memory loss, sleep difficulties, headaches, skin rashes, diarrhea, vision problems, nausea, breathing problems and others due to chemical and/or biological agent exposures.
Since family members have come forward with similar GWI signs and symptoms after their contact with sick veterans, the illness can be transmitted, suggesting that biological agents are involved. Although not usually fatal, some veterans have died after their illness progressed.
We have identified one of the possible biological agents in GWI patients. In one of our published studies, about one-half of Gulf War veterans and their family members with GWI suffer from unusual chronic infections, as from the microorganism Mycoplasma fermentans (incognitus), found in their white blood cells. This airborne infection can be successfully treated with multiple courses of antibiotics.
Such infections are contagious and can produce the complex signs and symptoms of GWI long after exposure.
In our testimony to Congress, we stated that there are at least four possible sources of the infectious agents found in GWI: contaminated vaccines, blowback from bombed chemical/ biological weapons factories and demolition of munitions bunkers, purposeful seeding of biological minefields using Italian-made biological agent sprayers, and SCUD B missile attacks using chemical/biological skyburst warheads.
This would explain the higher frequencies of GWI found in Airborne and Special Forces units deployed deep in Iraq and in units under SCUD B attack behind the main lines of battle.
The Pentagon has insisted for years that there was no evidence that U.S. forces were exposed to toxic weapons during the Gulf War. Yet in 1996, after one of us was invited to present our data on GWI to the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, Dr. Steven Joseph, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, circulated to members of Congress a letter incorrectly stating that the microorganism we found in Gulf War veterans blood cells did not cause human disease.
From the difficulties that we and others have experienced, one can only conclude that the Pentagon has not been forthright about the exposures of our Armed Forces to dangerous chemical and biological agents during and after the Gulf War, and that they have not been forthcoming about the illnesses these exposures have caused.
Recently, however, the Department of Defense agreed to work with us on this problem. It awarded us a contract to train Defense scientists and physicians to use the diagnostic techniques developed at the Institute for Molecular Medicine for identifying the chronic infections that cause, in part, GWI.
To address the exposures and the illnesses in military and civilian patients, we offer information and blood testing for chronic infections, such as those found associated with Gulf War Illness and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Only through careful diagnosis and appropriate treatment can we hope to stop the chronic infectious diseases of the Gulf War and other illnesses from spreading in the general population.
Garth L. Nicolson, Ph.D., and Nancy L. Nicolson, Ph.D.
Dr. Garth Nicolson is chief scientific officer and research professor, Institute for Molecular Medicine, 15162 Triton Lane, Huntington Beach, CA 92649. Telephone: (714) 903-2900. He is also professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston. Dr. Nancy Nicolson is chief executive officer of the Institute for Molecular Medicine and president of the Rhodon Foundation for Biomedical Research. For more on Gulf War Illness, see this issues Human Rights Leadership Profile.