September 13, 2006

Gulf What Syndrome?

Hatched by Dafydd

A "panel of experts" went looking for Gulf War Syndrome and couldn't find it anywhere!

See if this sounds familiar:

Exposed to combat stress in an environment with abundant sources of potentially harmful chemicals, nearly 30 percent of Gulf War veterans have suffered some kind of illness with multiple symptoms, compared with 16 percent of service members who did not go there. But there is no coherent set of symptoms that points to an overall syndrome, the [Institute of Medicine] panel reported.

"Gulf War veterans consistently report experiencing a wide range of symptoms, and this the case for both American veterans and military personnel from Canada, Australia, and other countries who served in the Persian Gulf," said Lynn Goldman, a professor of occupational and environmental health at Johns Hopkins University Baltimore.

"But because the symptoms vary greatly among individuals, they do not point to a syndrome unique to these veterans," added Goldman, who chaired the panel of medical and occupational experts.

Here is what we have:

  • "Gulf War Syndrome" (GWS) has been widely discussed for fifteen years in newspapers and magazines, on TV talk shows like Oprah and Jerry Springer, on the radio, and has even been referred to in the movies; probably every Gulf-War vet in America has heard of it.
  • A number of soldiers who fought in the Gulf War (and many others who were simply in some branch of service during that period) have reported various symptoms; they have asked for government-paid medical care.
  • The symptoms do not line up with each other; there is no consistent overlap. Some complain of running a fever, others complain their body temperatures are too cold. Some have pains in one part of their bodies, others have pains in completely different parts. Some have complained of flu-like symptoms, others have arthritis-like symptoms. And some sound almost childishly bizarre: burning semen and glow-in-the-dark vomit, for example.
  • In addition, vets have blamed any other disease they contract -- everything from pelvic cancer to cirrhosis to Lou Gherig's disease -- on a weakened immune system caused by GWS.
  • In the face of numerous studies finding no correlation, no special "syndrome," no statistically significant deviation from the norm of others in the service during this period, the vets who claim to be suffering from GWS say that they are the evidence, and this refutes any scientific studies.

MIchael Fumento has investigated GWS more than any other science writer, and he has argued for many years that there is no such "syndrome". If science exists and is at all believable, then GWS does not:

The latest Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Illness, stacked with GWS activists by Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi, said in so many words: "Damn the science and full speed ahead!" So doing, its September report – recently released – not only contradicted a previous advisory committee's findings but that of three different Institute of Medicine (IOM) panels; all appointed by the VA.

In doing so, it ignored that rates of both illness and death are lower among Gulf vets are no higher than those of comparable vets who didn't deploy; they're also far lower than those of comparable civilians. It also ignored the utter lack of commonality in symptoms, except that many studies have found GW vets have higher levels of stress-related illness. [Which could well be from the stress of being terrified about having GWS.]

Activists have attributed at least 123 symptoms to this "will-'o-the-wisp" syndrome, as former New England Journal of Medicine editor Marcia Angell described it to the New York Times." They include aching muscles, aching joints, abdominal pain, bruising, shaking, vomiting, fevers, irritability, fatigue, weight loss, weight gain, heartburn, bad breath, hair loss, graying hair, rashes, sore throat, itching, sore gums, constipation, sneezing, nasal congestion, leg cramps, hemorrhoids, hypertension, insomnia, and headaches.

Anybody who hasn't had most of the above symptoms is probably an android. But when a non-vet gets a cough, it's called "a cough." If a Gulf vet gets one, it's called GWS.

One claim is that GWS is caused by exposure to many chemicals during that brief war -- oil-fire smoke, possible chemical weapons stockpiled by Saddam and destroyed by U.S. troops, and of course, the ever-popular "evil vaccinations" that reportedly cause every illness known to Man, including AIDS and halitosis. But there is no correlation between individual soldiers' level of exposure and symptoms, except in those studies that rely entirely upon self-report of symptoms.

Other explanations (nerve gas, some unknow but ubiquitous Middle-Eastern virus) run into the same wall of non-correlation:

The reason the fad/theories come and go is because none ever pan out. Consider the nerve gas theory. It was given a bit of credence when it emerged that a battalion had blown up an Iraqi weapons bunker containing sarin gas. But sarin begins to dissipate in seconds, and the closest of these soldiers was three miles away. Others allegedly "gassed" from this explosion were hundreds of miles away.

Further, as General H. Norman Schwartzkopf pointed out in recent congressional testimony, during the war not a single soldier came down with symptoms of nerve gas poisoning. There is no evidence that an exposure to sarin so low as to cause no symptoms at the time could years later begin to wreak havoc on the body.

Finally, blaming nerve gas hardly accounts for all these stories we've been hearing about vets infecting their wives and children. Nerve gas is not contagious.

But science doesn't matter in the face of "we are the evidence" argumentation, just as evidence is irrelevant to creationists: when actual science gets in the way of hysteria, it is science that must give way to charges of "coverup" and "conspiracy."

The current study by the Institute of Medicine confirms what Fumento has said in many, many articles: you cannot have a single "syndrome" with symptoms unique to each individual and which doesn't even correlate with exposure to any conceivable agents or vectors. Modern medicine requires doctors, not voodoo priests.

I asked above whether GWS sounds at all familiar; it was actually a trick question, because the pattern is not merely similar, not merely identical, but literally the same game played with "silicone disease," "power-line disease," "post-partum disease," and today with "World Trade Center syndrome": it's really all one thing: it's I Feel Bad Complex in full cry.

The symptoms of IFBC include whatever any "sufferer" reports. It's caused by whatever unusual (or normal) life experiences the "sufferer" has lived through. The treatment is whatever the "sufferer" demands. And IFBC only goes away temporarily, returning with different symptoms, causes, and treatments the next time the "sufferer" feels bad.

We do no benefit to veterans by encouraging them to believe they have mystery illnesses with migrating symptoms and unlocatable causes, because they can never have any confidence that such phantom diseases ever go away. As Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld might say, luring vets into believing such nightmarish fantasies is "unhelpful."

It's time to put a stake through what Fumento calls "Gulf Lore sundrome," wreath it with garlic, and bury it at the nearest crossroads.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, September 13, 2006, at the time of 4:20 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this hissing:


The following hissed in response by: Steven Den Beste

Another "cause" which was popular for a long time was depleted Uranium, which of course we all know is among the most toxic and radioactive substances known, right?

Well, no, not even close. The many symptoms attributed to GWS do not strongly correlate with the well-understood symptoms of uranium toxicity, and depleted uranium is only "radioactive" by courtesy. You and I are more radioactive than an equivalent mass of DU, and because we're beta sources and DU is an alpha source, the radiation we emit (because of the Carbon-14 and Potassium-40 in our tissues) is more dangerous.

Fact is, you'd be exposed to more and more dangerous radiation by spending a night in bed with a lover than if you spent it laying next to a comparable mass of DU. Myself, I'd still prefer the lover; it's a risk I'm willing to take.

Despite the WHO's clear information about the relative lack of danger of DU, you'll still find people out there who think it's responsible for thousands of deformed babies in Iraq per year and also responsible for GWS.

The above hissed in response by: Steven Den Beste [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 13, 2006 6:24 PM

The following hissed in response by: Mr. Michael

Okay, let's just look at this:

Guys fresh out of High School or College enter the Military, get three squares, full health care, unreal amounts of punishing exercise and develop some of the strongest and healthiest bodies to have existed in Mankind's history.

Then when they leave the service, they find that over a period of years they get aches, pains, and coughs. Sometimes they are severe, sometimes they are not.


I think the problem is less that they are more sick than the general population, but that they are measuring their normal aging process against a higher standard of 'Healthy' than the general population. Most of us don't eat right, don't get proper or timely healthcare (When's the last time you went to the Dentist when the cavity was just a tiny little speck? Okay, maybe that one is just me) and we CERTAINLY don't get the proper amounts of exercise that we need to be healthy.

In short, as we age we ALL feel less healthy than we did when we were young and fit, the Gulf War Vets just remember being healthier than we ever were, so we accept more deterioration than they do.

It's called aging, guys... it's better than the currently available alternatives, but a Health Syndrome caused by exposure to fill-in-the-blank it ain't.

The above hissed in response by: Mr. Michael [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 13, 2006 7:24 PM

The following hissed in response by: Fritz

Ah yes, just another example of the "Flat Earthers." Science be damned, they can plainly see the earth is flat, they just can't find the edge. Of course many of those people also believe in conspiracy theories. Their sheer brilliance overwhelms me.

The above hissed in response by: Fritz [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 13, 2006 8:32 PM

The following hissed in response by: jagmedic

Gulf War Syndrome was first use by REPORTERs, who were at a lost to what to call what was happening.
Advocates, vet like myself called it usual persistant sympthoms that occured "post deployment illnesses". decreased our quaility of life unlike others in our age group.
What is still not known the diseases we have transmitted in out blood to the American populations..see leishmaniasis

The above hissed in response by: jagmedic [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 13, 2006 10:45 PM

Post a comment

Thanks for hissing in, . Now you can slither in with a comment, o wise. (sign out)

(If you haven't hissed a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Hang loose; don't shed your skin!)

Remember me unto the end of days?

© 2005-2009 by Dafydd ab Hugh - All Rights Reserved