It seems funny that after over twenty years we still have no cause. There seems to be no interest by the media other than back page stories in newspapers and no television that I have seen or heard of. Most of what I could find for the causes of Gulf War Illness is the same today as it was twenty years ago. It’s becoming evident to me that the only people who really care about Gulf War Illness are those of us who have it. I guess we are lucky that it’s not the same for Cancer, Leukemia, Aids or other diseases that affect far more people in our society. Then again, if we really cared we would find a cure and stop letting big pharmaceutical companies run the country. Right now there are lobbyists lurking in the halls of congress waiting to trade favors in exchange for getting another big drug approved so that when you get sick, and god help you if you do, they can give you a bunch of pills instead of trying to find a cure or a cause for what is wrong with you.
The following factors may have interacted to bring about specific symptoms in veterans. Obviously, the combinations of factors differ with individuals, hence it is likely that there is not one single explanation of the whole spectrum of symptoms. However, the following main categories are candidates for causal relationships with illnesses reported by veterans:
Administration of three vaccines intended as protection against nerve and biological warfare agents. These were:
Pyridostigmine, normally prescribed for myasthenia gravis and known to have serious side effects, especially when the person taking it is exposed to heat. It is also known that exposure to pesticides and insecticides (Baygon, Diazinon and Sevin) should be avoided when taking pyridostigmine because they can accentuate its toxicity. Some women who took this drug during pregnancy and have breast-fed infants have seen side effects in their child.
Botulinum Pentavalent, an unproven vaccine intended to counteract botulism. It is unlicensed in the United States.
Anthrax, to protect against the disease anthrax. This was apparently selectively administered to troops during the war, and women receiving it were warned not to have children for three or four years.
Depleted uranium was used for the first time in this war. It was incorporated into tank armor, missile and aircraft counterweights and navigational devices, and in tank, anti-aircraft and anti-personnel artillery. The scientific information on this deadly chemical has been reported in “Radium Osteitis With Osteogenic Sarcoma: The Chronology and Natural History of Fatal Cases” by Dr. William D. Sharpe, Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, Vol. 47, No. 9 (September 1971). There was no excuse for this human experimentation because the effects of this exposure were known.
Smoke and chemical pollutants released by the continuous oil- well fires. Levels of soot, carbon monoxide and ozone have been studied by an Environmental Protection Agency Task Force. The National Toxics Campaign, Boston, Massachusetts, found five different toxic hydrocarbon products in the smoke (1,4-dichlorobenzine, 1,2-dichlorobenzene, diethyl phthalate, dimethyl phthalate and naphthalene), any one of which could induce serious health effects.
Old World leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease transmitted by the bite of many species of sand fly indigenous to the region. Non-indigenous people who enter an infected area are known to be more seriously affected by this parasite than the inhabitants. If left undiagnosed, and therefore untreated, it can be fatal. Diagnosis requires bone and spleen biopsy, and the disease can have a three-year incubation period without causing symptoms. It can be transmitted by blood transfusion, and transmitted by a woman to her unborn child. Leishmaniasis was reported as widespread in Iraq and Saudi Arabia. This disease is thought to be responsible for the Pentagon ban, November 1991, against blood donations from Gulf War veterans. This ban was lifted, for unknown reasons, on January 11, 1993.
Pesticides and insecticides were used extensively throughout the war to protect against pestilence. It is known that large quantities of DDT, malathion, fenitrorthion, propuxur, deltamethrin and permethrin were used. They are all toxic nerve agents, and many are suspected carcinogens and mutagens.
Destruction by allies of Iraqi chemical, nerve and biological warfare weapons resulting in widespread distribution of these toxins in the environment. This problem has now been, at least in part, documented by the U.S. Department of Defense. They are focusing on this potential cause as if it were the only candidate cause.
The electromagnetic environment which permeated the battlefield during the war. Veterans were exposed to a broad spectrum of electromagnetic radiation created by electricity generated to support the high-tech instruments, thousands of radios and radar devices in use. This intense electromagnetic field causes both thermal and non-thermal effects, and potentially interacts with the other hazardous exposures and stresses of the battlefield. Electromagnetic radiation can alter the production of hormones (neurotransmitters), interact with cell membranes, increase calcium ion flow, stimulate protein kinase in lymphocytes, suppress the immune system, affect melatonin production required to control the “body clock,” and cause changes in the blood-brain barrier.