|Brief Summary of Possible Sources of Chronic Infections Associated with Gulf War Illnesses
Prof. Garth L. Nicolson
The Institute for Molecular Medicine
Huntington Beach, CA 92649-1041
A variety of health problems of returning US and coalition forces from Operation Desert Storm/Desert Shield have been reported. Among the over 600,000 US military participants of Operation Desert Storm (ODS), approximately 80,000 have registered with VA and DoD with health problems. These include a collection of symptoms characterized by disabling fatigue, intermittent fevers, joint pain, muscle pain, impairments in short-term memory, headaches, skin rashes, sleeping difficulties, gastrointestinal problems, diarrhea and a collection of additional symptoms that has defied a careful case definition. This disorder has been called Persian Gulf War Syndrome or Gulf War Illness (GWI). It has been agreed that many Gulf War veterans do have medical problems, but it has also been argued that the symptoms of GWI are not well established as criteria for particular illnesses and they do not readily fit into common diagnosis categories. This has resulted in unknown diagnoses, or worse, they have been diagnosed with psychological problems, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The military personnel that we have interviewed were particularly disdainful of this explanation for GWI and the attempts by military psychiatrists to brand them with mental disorders instead of medical disorders.
We suggested that most of the GWI-CFIDS symptoms could be explained by chronic pathogenic mycoplasmal infections. Mycoplasmal infections usually produce diseases limited to particular tissue sites or organs, such as urinary tract or respiratory infections. CNS diseases or other pathologies are not uncommon. However, the types of mycoplasmas that we have detected in Desert Storm veterans may be causing the chronic fatigue and other symptoms are very pathogenic, colonize a variety of organs and tissues, and are difficult to treat.
These mycoplasmas are not easily detected but can be identified by a technique that we developed called Gene Tracking. In our preliminary study on veterans with GWI-CFIDS and their families, we have found evidence of mycoplasmal infections in about 45% of the GWI patients' blood leukocytes (n>170). Not every Desert Storm veteran had the same type of mycoplasma DNA sequences inside their leukocytes. So far, ~30% of the total (2/3 of mycoplasma-positive) has been identified as Mycoplasma fermentans
Possible Sources of Chronic Infections Associated with Gulf War Illness:
Available military and CIA intelligence reports indicated that the Iraqi Armed Forces deployed CBW to forward positions and were operating under the concept of Integrated War Strategy, a Soviet War Doctrine that proposes use of conventional weapons with mixtures of Chemical and Biological Weapons to confuse diagnosis and treatment of casualties. Some soldiers from the Gulf War were probably exposed to endogenous and exogenous chemicals, such as smoke, fuel, insecticides, etc., and have Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome (MCS) induced by exposure to various chemical agents, some may have been exposed to CBW, or to both endogenous chemicals and CBW. The hypothetical dissemination and exposure to Biological and Chemical Agents could have been accomplished by the following possible means. In our Testimony to the U.S. Congress (April 4, 1996) we listed four possible ways that soldiers could have exposed to Chemical/Biological Weapons in Desert Storm:
1. Bombing of targets in Iraq thought to be Chemical/Biological Weapons facilities or storage depots. This caused plumes of smoke that could have transported CBW down wind into our lines. The prevailing wind direction during the conflict was to the South-East towards our lines. In addition, improper fluids and procedures for aircraft decontamination and failure to decontaminate vehicles returning from various operations could have resulted in exposures. Also, the destruction of suspected CBW storage facilities probably led to exposures in Engineering and other units after the conflict.
2. Exposure to SCUD B (SS-1) skyburst warheads equipped to deliver CBW. There were several types of SCUD warheads used in the conflict, and there were many eyewitness accounts of the skyburst type that are usually used for CBW exploding over Saudi and Western Kuwait. These were described as releasing a purple/blue mist over the battlefield. The purple/blue substance was probably Prussian Blue, a substance that could have been used to destroy the filters in the M43 gas mask used in the MOPP suits. Military intelligence indicated that the Iraqis had the ability to deliver CBW by the skyburst warheads.
3. Exclusionary zones may have been created with CBW agents. Military Intelligence units reported that some areas of Southern Iraq contained posted zones where nothing was alive (dead animals, humans, etc.). These could have been created by spraying BW agents on the sand. COL Gerald Shummacher of Fort Baker, CA, stated that over 50 BW Sprayer Units were discovered in Southern Iraq and Western Kuwait. These units can deliver BW in dry or wet form to the ground from helicopters, light planes or trucks.
4. The vaccines used before Desert Storm have come into question, because some soldiers who were not deployed came down with Gulf War Illness. (But some soldiers who were deployed and civilians who did not receive vaccines have also come down with Gulf War Illness). Vaccine contamination, although uncommon, can occur, and some individuals may have obtained their infections by this route. It is extremely difficult to obtain information on the types of vaccines used in Desert Storm, because for the first time in history, the shot records of individual soldiers have been rendered secret. Also, some soldiers received experimental vaccines, the nature of which we lack information on.
We have concentrated on the chronic illnesses associated with Desert Storm, especially those involving immediate family members who also became ill. That some Gulf War Illness patients with immediate family members who have become sick with similar chronic signs and symptoms indicates that these diseases are similar and are contagious. Thus they cannot be caused by Chemical Agents. In addition, these infectious diseases may have been transmitted to some unborn children, and this could explain along with chemical exposures the higher apparent rates of infantile death and birth defects in Gulf War Illness families.
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