Recent military veterans may be facing Gulf War syndrome symptoms

Local professor weighs in on new federal report

SAN DIEGO - Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may be suffering from the two-decade-old symptoms of another conflict.

Two decades ago, as Iraqi troops were retreating from Kuwait, oil wells and chemical weapon factories were destroyed, sending toxins into the air. Additionally, troops were given anthrax vaccines and a pill to thwart nerve gas prior to deploying.

All of those were named as possible causes of Gulf War syndrome, after nearly one-third of the 700,000 who took part in the Gulf War came down with the chronic illness.

UC San Diego professor Dr. Beatrice Golomb, who's been researching the illness for more than 15 years, plans a close look at the just-released report from the Institute of Medicine.

The report says the initial data suggests Gulf War illness is occurring in veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan wars. While the recent veterans weren't exposed to the same vaccines or level of toxins, Golomb has treated one Iraq War veteran with Gulf War syndrome symptoms.

"He was exposed to a range of chemicals that included pesticides, as well as jet fuel," said Golomb.

Still, she believes those cases are rare and doesn't believe that a large group of recent military veterans are suffering from Gulf War syndrome because most of the potential causes haven't been present in the Iraq and Afghan theaters of war.

"I think these may be other conditions," said Golomb.

Those conditions include post-traumatic stress disorder, which does have some symptoms in common with Gulf War syndrome, like mood issues and irritability.

The concern with lumping too many cases under the label Gulf War syndrome? Golomb fears it could lead to a one-size-fits-all research and therapy that won't work.         

Golomb is about to publish a study which tested the value of giving doses of the coenzyme Q10 to Gulf War veterans and found that "every single" veteran found improvement from all their symptoms.

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