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Friday, January 15, 1999 Published at 11:18 GMT


Gulf veterans 'twice as ill'

Gulf War service has affected the health of troops

Veterans of the 1991 Gulf War are more than twice as likely to be ill than service personnel who did not serve in the conflict, according to a UK study.

BBC Correspondent Mark Laity: 'Gulf war syndrome' doesn't exist
But researchers have rejected the existence of any specific Gulf War Syndrome, saying that the illnesses cannot be grouped together under such an umbrella title.

The findings back up some studies of US troops, though not all. UK veterans groups are now calling for treatment on a par with their counterparts across the Atlantic.

The findings from the Gulf War Research Unit in London compared Gulf War servicemen with those who had served in Bosnia.

They found that Gulf veterans were more likely to report symptoms such as fatigue, post-traumatic stress disorder and psychological distress as Bosnian veterans.

They were also more likely to complain of rashes, poor concentration, headache, asthma and arthritis.

But the researchers, who describe their findings in The Lancet, could not find a pattern of symptoms unique to Gulf War veterans.

Defence correspondent Mark Laity: "No evidence of a single cause"
Tony Flint, of the National Gulf Veterans and Families Association, said the study had been a waste of time.

"It has only found what we have been saying to the Ministry of Defence for four years - we have been telling them they will not find a syndrome. That is why we call it Gulf War illnesses."

He claimed 400 veterans had died since the war and time was running out.

Mr Flint asked the UK Government to consider a centralised programme of treatment similar to that recently offered to veterans in the US.

The study was welcomed by Armed Forces Minister Doug Henderson, who said the government was determined to find out why Gulf veterans were falling ill.

"We welcome all new scientific and medical data about the difficult and complex issue of Gulf veterans' illnesses," he added.

Perceived symptoms

[ image: Bosnian war veterans do not perceive their symptoms to be as bad]
Bosnian war veterans do not perceive their symptoms to be as bad
The researchers randomly sent questionnaires to 4,250 people who had served in the Gulf, 4,250 who had served in Bosnia and 4,246 who had been in the forces at the time of the Gulf War but had not served there.

The researchers then selected 200 of the servicemen, who had more serious health problems, for more detailed follow-up.

Tony Flint: Report's findings no surprise
The main difference in exposure to possibly harmful substances between Bosnia and Gulf War veterans was exposure to burning oil wells, vaccinations against biological warfare and measures to protect against possible exposure to biological warfare.

Servicemen who served in the Gulf War and had multiple non-biological warfare vaccinations were more likely to report illness than those similarly exposed in Bosnia.

The researchers do not know why this is, but believe it could be linked to perceived health risk.

Servicemen who received vaccinations against biological warfare were more likely to report long-term symptoms.

Those who recalled experiencing side effects after having vaccinations were more likely to report long-term symptoms.

The researchers are continuing their study and will conduct detailed physical examinations.

No syndrome

Another study in The Lancet, by the same unit, also found there was no unique pattern of symptoms among Gulf War veterans that might represent a new disorder.

They said the pattern of health difficulties reported by Gulf War veterans differed little from those reported by other military personnel.

They conclude that the research "would appear to provide evidence against the existence of a unique Gulf War syndrome".

However, other research - most recently by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the USA - points to a pattern of symptoms for Gulf War Illness.

The National Gulf Veterans' and Families' Association says it believes a syndrome exists which is caused by the vaccinations veterans were given.

The Ministry of Defence is conducting joint research on the illness with American scientists.

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