Gulf War Syndrome

 

The first Gulf War (1990-91) and the West African Ebola outbreak in 2014 are worlds and times apart, yet they do have a big connection.  Many of us will remember reports of 'Gulf War Syndrome', a mysterious malaise that affected servicemen and women after the war.  Suggestions were made that it was caused by Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, toxic fumes from the burning oil wells, depleted uranium particles, traces of nerve gas or maybe the cocktail of drugs the service personnel were given to protect them against whatever they might come across 'out there'.  The connection with West Africa is that Ebola survivors find themselves suffering from similar mysterious symptoms after their recovery from the dreadful virus.

 

Gulf War Syndrome

 

The most common Gulf War Syndrome symptoms were listed as “sinus congestion, headache, fatigue, joint pain, difficulty remembering or concentrating, joint stiffness, difficulty sleeping, abdominal pain, trouble finding words, (feeling) moody or irritable, rash or sores, numbness or tingling and muscle pain” in a study published in 1998 called “Chronic Multisymptom Illness Affecting Air Force Veterans of the Gulf War".

If you've been affected by fluoroquinolone toxicity you might be able to tick off quite a few of these symptoms yourself.

 

On a specialist forum for US Gulf War veterans there is a discussion about pyridostigmine bromide (which was given to protect them from nerve gas), and a second 'nameless' pill that they also had to take.  These comments are from 2009 and 2010 (eighteen years after the war ended):

 

“I took the second pill you are talking about.   I recall the first one was called a NAP (Nerve Agent Pill) and I understood that the other was some sort of super antibiotic to ward off affects of any bio-weapon(s).”

 

“I remember the no-name pill.  The thing I remember most is the violent stomach pains and massive diarrhea.  I have sufferred with stomach problems since 91.  I suffer from terrible memory loss it is crazy what I cannot remember.”

 

“I know exactly what those pills were because I found a bottle.  They were Cipro 500XR.”

 

Then this from someone who seems to have been finding out a bit more about it:

 

“We were forced to take Cipro 500mg twice a day for 40 plus days. so the Marines were given NAPP (nerve agent protection pills) or pyridiostigmine bromide to protect us from nerve agent, and we were ordered to take the Cipro to protect from anthrax....  ...a large number of us may hav been effected.  I suffer from fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, IBS, and multiple other ailments.  Good luck to all of you.”

 

You can read the discussion at: http://www.healthboards.com/boards/military-health-issues/689201-usmc-gulf-war-vets.html#ixzz4CgVBh6yd

It actually makes quite difficult reading as these ex-servicemen and women are all saying the same thing – that they have serious physical and mental changes yet the doctors don't want to know.

UK soldiers who fought in that war have a similar story to tell.  In 2011, an article appeared in the Birmingham Mail reporting that the National Gulf Veterans and Families Association said over 2,000 former servicemen were suffering from Gulf War Syndrome.  The Association was supporting a demonstration at Westminster campaigning for the Government to do more to help.  Their spokeswoman said:

“Gulf War Syndrome has affected the lives of thousands of veterans and their families, but successive Governments and the Ministry of Defence have continually ignored what is now irrefutable evidence.”

The demonstration took place on the 21st February 2011, the 20th anniversary of the end of the first Gulf War.

Five years later, on 17 Jan 2016, this report was on the BBC website:

 

British Legion calls for more research into Gulf War illnesses

 

More help is needed for veterans with Gulf War Syndrome, the Royal British Legion has said, as it marks 25 years since the beginning of that conflict.

Over 33,000 former soldiers are thought to suffer from illnesses related to their service such as chronic headaches, fatigue and memory problems.

The charity said too little was known about the condition and the government should fund more research into it.

The Ministry of Defence said it was always open to new research proposals.

Reported symptoms of Gulf War Syndrome range from chronic fatigue, headaches and sleep disturbances to joint pains, irritable bowel, stomach and respiratory disorders and psychological problems.

But the MoD says "the overwhelming consensus of the scientific and medical community" is that the range of symptoms is too broad "for this ill health to be characterised as a syndrome in medical terms".

 

'Important area'

 

In 1991 more than 50,000 members of the British armed forces were deployed in the Persian Gulf as part of Operation Desert Storm - a US-led campaign against the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

 

The British Legion - which provides support for veterans - said more than 60% were now suffering from illnesses related to the conflict, with nearly 10,000 receiving a war pension, the financial aid any ex-service personnel with an illness due to service can receive.

Marie Louise Sharp, policy adviser at the Legion, said that 25 years on, more needed to be done to help ill soldiers.

 

"We know the health of ill Gulf War veterans continues to be an important area for the government, which is why the Legion is calling for investment into research so we can understand how to improve the lives of those affected," she said.

 

"In addition, we ask for formal communication channels to be established to convey the results of US research developments to Gulf War veterans living here in the UK."

The charity said research into appropriate treatment and health pathways would significantly improve their lives but that there had never been any published research in the UK into treatment or best practice.

 

There is still disagreement over why rates of ill health are twice as high among Gulf War veterans than troops deployed elsewhere, and campaigners and doctors continue to disagree over whether the syndrome actually exists as a medical condition unique to Operation Desert Storm.

In its 2015 manifesto the British Legion said the first phase of an MoD-commissioned study at Cardiff University, which examined potential interventions to rehabilitate ill Gulf War veterans, had started in January 2009 but "for reasons unknown to us, the MoD chose not to fund the second phase of research, and the results of phase one were never published".”

 

The British Legion manifesto actually contains the following interesting facts and figures about Gulf War Syndrome:

 

According to 2007 figures from the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency (SPVA), there are around 7,000 individuals receiving a War Pension for conditions relating to their Service in the Gulf War or their preparation to deploy to that theatre of conflict. This figure accounts for around 13% of all those who deployed.

 

Research by the King’s Centre for Military Health Research has found that 62% of Gulf War respondents met the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) multi-symptom criteria for Gulf War illness, and that over a quarter reported ‘severe symptoms’. Based on these figures, and the fact that around 53,500 British troops were deployed to the Gulf, we could expect over 33,000 individuals to meet the CDC criteria and over 13,000 to have experienced severe symptoms.

 

In general, research in the US, UK, Australia and Canada has found that veterans of the Gulf War report common health symptoms at about two to three times the rate of other veterans, with more negative health perceptions and a poorer quality of life. Veterans with Gulf War illnesses are treated for their individual symptoms rather than the ‘condition’ itself. To date, there has been no research published on effective treatment or ‘best practice’ for ameliorating symptoms in UK Gulf War veterans. The first phase of an MOD-commissioned study at Cardiff University, which examined potential interventions to rehabilitate ill Gulf War veterans, commenced in January 2009. For reasons unknown to us, the MOD chose not to fund the second phase of research, and the results of Phase 1 were never published.

 

The piece finishes this with poignant sub-heading:

“Invest in research on ‘what works’ in treating veterans with Gulf War illnesses and set up formal communication channels to convey the results of US research developments to these individuals

 

Poignant, because two years previously the University of California, San Diego Health Sciences released a paper titled:

Gulf war illness not in veterans' heads but in their mitochondria

(March 27, 2014)

 

The summary of the paper says:

 

Veterans of the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War who suffer from “Gulf War illness” have impaired function of mitochondria – the energy powerhouses of cells, researchers have demonstrated for the first time. The findings could help lead to new treatments benefitting affected individuals -- and to new ways of protecting servicepersons (and civilians) from similar problems in the future.

 

In the paper the author (Beatrice A. Golomb MD, PhD, professor of medicine) says:


"The classic presentation for mitochondrial illness involves multiple symptoms spanning many domains, similar to what we see in Gulf War illness. These classically include fatigue, cognitive and other brain-related challenges, muscle problems and exercise intolerance, with neurological and gastrointestinal problems also common."

There are other similarities between patients with mitochondrial dysfunction and those suffering from Gulf War illness: Additional symptoms appear in smaller subsets of patients; varying patterns of symptoms and severity among individuals; different latency periods across symptoms, or times when symptoms first appear; routine blood tests that appear normal.

The complete paper can be seen at:

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140327222210.htm

 

There are several other related articles including:

 

“Gulf War veterans still have high rate of multisymptom illness”   June 29, 2016

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160629130628.htm

Summary:

Veterans of the Gulf War are more than twice as likely to have medically unexplained symptoms known as "multisymptom illness" (MSI), compared to Iraq/Afghanistan War veterans, according to an updated research.

 

“Illness continues to be major effect linked to Gulf War military service” Feb 11, 2016

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/02/160211142014.htm

Summary:

Although more than $500 million in federally funded research on Persian Gulf War veterans between 1994 and 2014 has produced many findings, there has been little substantial progress in the overall understanding of the health effects, particularly Gulf War illness, resulting from military service in the war, says a new report.

 

“For veterans with Gulf War Illness, an explanation for the unexplainable symptoms” Sept 10, 2015

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/09/150910185120.htm

Summary:

One in four Gulf War veterans suffers from Gulf War Illness, a condition characterised by unexplainable chronic fatigue, muscle pain and cognitive dysfunction. New research finds for the first time direct evidence that the cells of Gulf War veterans cannot produce enough energy to run the body, explaining the fatigue and slow down of the body.

 

This paper talks about showing “for the first time direct evidence of greater mitochondrial damage in Gulf War veterans”, and explains thus:

 

The mitochondrion has its own DNA, separate from the cell's, that encodes the proteins needed to produce the molecules that power the body's processes. Damage to the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) directly affects the mitochondria's ability to function and produce energy. Increases in the amount of mtDNA have been associated with disease. In this study, researchers measured the mtDNA amount and degree of mtDNA damage in blood cells from blood samples from veterans of GWI. Compared with healthy non-deployed controls, Gulf War veterans had more mtDNA content and greater mtDNA damage. According to the researchers, these findings further support that mitochondrial dysfunction may be involved in GWI. "Future studies are necessary to confirm these findings and determine their association with mitochondrial function. Work in this area may guide new diagnostic testing and treatments for veterans suffering from GWI," the researchers wrote.

 

“Coenzyme Q10 helps veterans battle Gulf War illness symptoms.” Nov 3, 2014

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/11/141103121020.htm

Summary:

A high quality brand of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) -- a compound commonly sold as a dietary supplement -- provides health benefits to persons suffering from Gulf War illness symptoms, researchers report.

 

CoQ10 is often mentioned as being beneficial to sufferers of fluoroquinolone toxicity so this is the interesting bit of the report:

 

CoQ10 is a fat-soluble antioxidant made by the body to support basic cell functions, including directly assisting mitochondrial energy production. Over a course of three and a half months, the veterans in the study received a pill form of either CoQ10 or a placebo. Researchers found 80 percent of those who received 100mg of CoQ10 had improvement in physical function. The degree of improvement correlated to the degree in which CoQ10 levels in the blood increased.

 

The researchers reported that Gulf War illness symptoms like headaches, fatigue with exertion, irritability, recall problems and muscle pain also improved.

 

Lisa Bloomquist, founder of the Floxie Hope website, writes many articles for on-line media sites. In January 2014, she wrote an article for Collective-Evolution reporting that the Air Force Times (a US military magazine) had made the connection “floxies have been screaming about for years – that Gulf War Illness is tied to Cipro”.

 

Her  article can be read at: http://www.collective-evolution.com/2014/01/06/gulf-war-illness-tied-to-cipro-antibiotics/

(Unfortunately her link to the original article comes up as  'no longer existing' on the Air Force Times website.)

 

In June the same year an article appeared on Examiner.com, one of the U.S.'s biggest Internet news sites, titled “Could Gulf War Syndrome be a result of Fluoroquinolone Antibiotic Toxicity?”  The author, Kerri Knox concludes the report with this very astute observation:

 

For a variety of reasons, almost no one is investigating this possible link, and so we may never know if Gulf War Syndrome is, indeed, due to Fluoroquinolone Toxicity. Unfortunately, this lack of research can only benefit the makers of these drugs, but be to the detriment of the hundreds of thousands of soldiers that have been affected by this perplexing syndrome.

 

http://www.examiner.com/article/could-gulf-war-syndrome-be-a-result-of-fluoroquinolone-antibiotic-toxicity

 

After we started putting this page together, an interesting item appeared on the Victoria Derbyshire Programme (BBC 1) on 31st August 2016 where the former Army Chief, Lord Dannatt, admitted that he refused to take the drug Lariam which was given to troops going to malaria zones.  Interesting because Lariam, also called mefloquine, is a cousin of the quinolone family and leaves similar problems in its wake.

 

The following is extracted from the write-up of the interview, which can be read in full on the BBC website:

 

Ex-Army chief Dannatt refused Lariam drug used by troops

By Joanna Gosling & Sarah Hatchard Victoria Derbyshire programme

31 Aug 2016

 

A former Army chief has admitted he has refused to take a controversial anti-malaria drug despite it being offered to his troops.

 

Lord Dannatt told the BBC programme he personally believes the drug can have "catastrophic" mental health effects.

 

He said his own son took Lariam and became "extremely depressed".

 

The MoD's doctors prescribed Lariam to more than 17,000 troops between April 2007 and March 2015, although it is not the main anti-malaria drug used by the armed forces.

 

Lord Dannatt said the drug's side-effects - which can include depression and suicidal thoughts - could be "pretty catastrophic".

 

Lord Dannatt said he was "quite content to say sorry" to troops who had taken Lariam while he was head of the Army between 2006 and 2009, admitting the issue had not been treated as a priority.

 

Asked why soldiers had continued to be prescribed Lariam during his years in charge, he said the MoD at the time "hadn't reached a settled view on whether Lariam was more beneficial or harmful".

 

Critics of the use of Lariam by the MoD have described its effects as similar to "friendly fire", a mistaken attack by a military force on its own personnel.  Lord Dannatt called this a "very fair description".

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-37183873

 

The MOD's response to the item can be seen at:

 

https://modmedia.blog.gov.uk/2015/08/20/use-of-anti-malarial-medication-in-the-military/

 

Interestingly, on the 16th of September, it was revealed by Ireland's RTE (equivalent of the BBC) that Lariam was taken off the market in Ireland at the end of July 2016 – a month before the  interview above was broadcast.

 

Also interesting is that the report continues with the news that the Irish Department of Defence made a statement saying that the drug is still available to them via two main wholesalers and “there are no plans to withdraw Lariam from the range of anti-malarial medications.

 

http://www.rte.ie/news/2016/0915/816884-lariam/