Gulf war veterans show nerve damage

BMJ 1996; 312 doi: (Published 30 March 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;312:797
  1. Owen Dyer

    A study of Gulf war veterans suffering from unexplained illness has found that some have evidence of nerve damage. Researchers from the Institute of Neurological Sciences at Glasgow's Southern General Hospital randomly selected 14 veterans from a list of those with unexplained illness and compared their responses to a range of neurological tests with those of 13 civilian controls matched for age, sex, handedness, and physical activity. Tests included heat, cold, and vibration sensibilities and motor and sensory nerve conduction on the arms and legs.

    The veterans had abnormal responses in three peripheral nerve functions: cold threshold, sural nerve latency, and median nerve sensory action potential. Dr Goran Jamal, who led the study, published in the current issue of the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, says that further tests are needed to confirm the dysfunction.

    The British government has moved closer to the more sympathetic position of the US administration in acknowledging the possibility of a Gulf war syndrome. In January the Ministry of Defence commissioned its own independent studies, which will be overseen by the Medical Research Council. About 350 sick veterans have already been seen, and studies are to be carried out into birth defects in veterans' families.

    Soldiers in the Gulf were given vaccines against a range of diseases and prescribed tablets containing pyridostigmine bromide and pentavalent botulinum toxoid to protect them against the potential use of chemical and biological weapons.—OWEN DYER, freelance journalist, London

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